HC 171 Protecting the Arctic
Written evidence submitted by the
Chair of the Sustainable Development
Working Group of the Arctic Council
I would like to start by thanking you in showing such a great interest to the Arctic Council in general and in the Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG) in particular. Below, I’ve tried to reply to your questions from my perspective and I hope that will satisfy your queries. I would also like to highlight that a lot of information, in particular on different reports and publications done by the SDWG, is available on the web, see http://portal.sdwg.org/, see also attachments to this email.
1. There are six indigenous peoples groups that have ‘permanent participant status’ at the Arctic Council. What weight is assigned to their views, compared to weight assigned to the eight Arctic states?
Formally the governance of the Arctic Council – Sustainable Development Working Group is by consensus of the eight (8) Arctic States in consultation with the six (6) Permanent Participants. There is no weighting of votes. The participation of the six Indigenous Peoples groups is what differ the Arctic Council from other international bodies / organisations.
The voice of the six Indigenous Peoples groups often adds information from a local and inhabitant perspective, which often provides value added information to the general discussion.
2. How does the Arctic Council engage with Indigenous Peoples, other than through the Sustainable Development Working Group?
The Indigenous Peoples are involved in all aspects of Arctic Council’s activities. The Indigenous Peoples participate in the work of all six working groups of the Arctic Council. They are as well part of the Senior Arctic Officials meetings, Deputy Ministerial Meetings and Ministerial Meetings. The six Permanent Participants are an integral part of the Arctic Council.
3. What role does the Sustainable Development Working Group have? What areas has it examined, what key recommendations has it made, and what changes if any has it secured as a result? What is its current work programme?
The role of the SDWG can be stated in the following:
· To promote cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, with the involvement of the Arctic indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on common arctic issues, in particular issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic.
· The goal of the sustainable development program is to propose and adopt steps to be taken by the Arctic States to advance sustainable development in the Arctic, including opportunities to protect and enhance the environment, and the economies, cultures and health of indigenous communities and of other inhabitants of the Arctic, as well as to improve the environmental, economic and social conditions of Arctic communities as a whole.
· There is a strong commitment within the Council to stimulate, approve and support projects of common interest which will deliver meaningful and tangible benefits to Arctic residents.
What areas has it examined:
· Health issues and the wellbeing of people living in the Arctic. Prevention and control of disease and injuries, as well as the longterm monitoring of the impact of pollution and climate change
· Sustainable economic activities and increasing community prosperity. To be sustainable, Arctic communities must have an appropriate economic base to ensure their survival
· Education and cultural heritage. These are a fundamental prerequisite for sustainable development and capacity building.
· Children and youth. Their wellbeing and potential are essential to the future of Arctic communities and must be protected and nurtured.
· Management of natural, including living, resources. This must be based on sound science and traditional knowledge to maintain and develop local settlements in the Arctic.
· Infrastructure development. This enhances economic growth and the quality of life for Arctic people.
" what key recommendations has it made, and what changes if any has it secured as a result " are hardly questions that could be answered without entering specifically each and every initiative undertaken by the SDWG over the years.
The current work programme of the SDWG
Please see our website for the SDWG’s Work plan 2011-13: http://portal.sdwg.org/media.php?mid=1342
4. In what areas are Arctic Indigenous People broadly in agreement throughout the region?
I would guess in areas that affect them, but I would like you to ask Indigenous Peoples themselves.
5. Broadly speaking, in what areas do the views of some Indigenous Peoples diverge from those of national governments?
If you look on the issues/areas that are mandated to the SDWG and that are dealt with in its meetings (and with the limited resources), I would guess there are more or less no major divergence between the Indigenous Peoples and National government positions. If there is a major divergence, the issue could not be accepted as an agenda item for a meeting. Outside the SDWG and its meetings there are probably issues where Indigenous Peoples and National government positions differ, but to what extent and depth, I would say that is rather a topic for researchers to identify.
6. In considering any Indigenous Peoples perspectives on oil and gas exploration, to what extent has the Arctic Council or Sustainable Development Working Group sought to influence oil and gas exploration in the Arctic to minimise its impact on Indigenous Peoples’ way of life?
The SDWG is not an opinion evolving group with its own agenda, but it works strictly within its mandate and on the basis of project proposals streaming from one of the member States or Indigenous Peoples organisations. There is no hidden agenda in trying to influence the development in the Arctic in any particular direction. The SDWG put a lot of efforts in understanding the effects of changes, for the peoples living in the Arctic. If we notice change of climate, how does it change the possibilities for the Indigenous Peoples to live in a traditional way? Are concentrations of contaminants more frequent in the traditional food (and water) for peoples living in the Arctic. If new industries are set up in an area, what are the effects for the local peoples living there? These are examples of questions the SDWG is concerned with.
7 June 2012