Last month, the Arctic Council Task Force for Enhancing Scientific Cooperation in the Arctic (SCTF) reached ad referendum agreement on a new ‘Agreement on Enhancing Arctic Scientific Cooperation’.
The Task Force, which was co-chaired by Sweden, Russia and the US, was established by the Arctic Council three years ago. Its initial purpose was to compare the existing national science priorities of the eight Arctic States and identify potential gaps and common objectives. However, in the meetings that followed, the aims of the Task Force crystallised around the need to grease the wheels of scientific cooperation between the eight Arctic States.
Eventually, the Arctic States agreed to negotiate a binding agreement, under the auspices of the Arctic Council. According to the US representative, the reasoning was that if the agreement was signed by Foreign Ministers, it would ensure all relevant parts of government in the eight Arctic States to conform to the policy.
The agreement follows the successful negotiation of two other treaties at the Arctic Council, on Search and Rescue (2011) and Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response (2013). While these agreements are international treaties signed by the Arctic States, they demonstrate the increasingly important role played by the Arctic Council in facilitating and shaping closer cooperation between the Arctic States.
Observer states and other organisations attended all of the meetings. Both the UK and Germany made contributions to the draft agreement. Yet non-Arctic States have not been invited to sign it. In part, this is because it would have been much more complicated to negotiate a treaty will all interested parties. However, it also reflects the ongoing efforts of the Arctic States to maintain their primacy over Arctic affairs. Although not all of the Arctic falls within national jurisdictions, the Arctic States have long been careful to limit the participation of non-Arctic States in formal international agreements pertaining to the region.
Nevertheless, the Observer States, including the UK, will still benefit from the provisions of the agreement on scientific cooperation, as long as they have partnered with an Arctic State on a project. This reflects the value attached by the Arctic States to the scientific contributions of non-Arctic States.
The agreement will not be final until it is signed at the next Arctic Council Ministerial meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska in Spring 2017. However, representatives of the Task Force are confident that it will go ahead. If so, it will be an important signal that international cooperation in the Arctic is continuing, despite the deterioration of relations between the West and Russia.
Arctic Council Press Release:
Interview with Evan Bloom, the US Representative to the Arctic Council: