Opportunities and prospects of international cooperation

written by Eleonora Milazzo – ACCEL European Fellow

Taken together, the Arctic 101 series has introduced you to the fascinating Arctic region, to its main features and challenges. Much more remains to be said and it would be nearly impossible to cover the full range of issues concerning the modern-day High North. To conclude this series, we will sum up some of the most controversial issues that have emerged during this journey to the Arctic, and we will look to the future and see what to expect in the coming years.

Iceberg's eerie glow. Illustrations by Dayanita Ramesh - ACCEL North American Fellow
Iceberg’s eerie glow. Illustrations by Dayanita Ramesh – ACCEL North American Fellow
  1. Lessons learned

We learned that the Arctic is a truly unique place, currently at the center of many crosscutting and transboundary issues that call for worldwide attention.

Specifically, we focused on climate change as the major challenge to the planet’s northernmost land. We analyzed the effects of climate change on Arctic ecosystems in all its complexities. We found out that climate change is having and will have a major impact on the economy of the North, and that still many challenges and opportunities lie ahead. Some prospects of development are particularly worrisome, like Arctic oil and gas development. We also learned about the communities inhabiting some of Earth’s most remote regions. We understood that the goal of Arctic development for the coming years should be that of putting Arctic peoples at the center and let them actively participate in the changes that are occurring around their homeland. Arctic 101 also explored the main issues relating to Arctic cooperation; thus far, the Arctic has proven to be a place for fruitful collaboration. We argued that both the scenario depicting a race to Arctic energy resources and an “Arctic Cold War” can be reasonably excluded (hyperlink) at present, given the existing framework of cooperation and largely overlapping shared interests.

What, then, is to be done in an Arctic?


  1. Arctic cooperation: a look to the future

    Arctic sun. Illustrations by Dayanita Ramesh - ACCEL North American Fellow
    Arctic sun. Illustrations by Dayanita Ramesh – ACCEL North American Fellow

Environmental protection

Environmental protection should be high on the agenda of future cooperation in the Arctic. The major issues to be addressed are fishing and shipping regulation, as well as preventing oil pollution and developing effective response strategies whenever incidents do take place.

As for fishing, we saw how, except for the area covered by the NEAFC, the Central Arctic Ocean is characterized by a gap in high sea regulations by regional fisheries management organizations. Filling the gap is becoming a pressing issue as the climate changes. Concluding an intergovernmental agreement to regulate fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean will be a necessary step in this regard.

The International Maritime Organization is developing a mandatory International Code, the Polar Code, to regulate vessels standards in polar waters. The Polar Code will address matters pertaining to environmental protection address operational, training, and search and rescue aspects. The international effort should invest more resources and time in adopting the Polar Code – this would be a major step forward in Arctic sustainable development.

The Search and Rescue (SAR) Agreement and the Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Pollution Preparedness and Response are major achievements of the international community in tackling pollution and environmental hazard. At the same time, they represent a starting point for improving still-insufficient rescue capacities and, most of all, the net of infrastructure in the Arctic.

International cooperation

People in the Arctic. Illustrations by Dayanita Ramesh - ACCEL North American Fellow
People in the Arctic. Illustrations by Dayanita Ramesh – ACCEL North American Fellow

When talking about the future of Arctic cooperation, we must not ignore the role of the Arctic Council (AC). It is, and will most likely remain, the main high-level forum of the region. Since its establishment in 1996, the AC has fostered cooperation and helped to achieve concrete results in transnational cooperation.

Despite this, there is a growing need to enhance cooperation with non-Arctic actors. As an example of this, China, India, Italy, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea were recently welcomed as new observer states within the AC. Environmental protection, resource development and, ultimately, the eight Arctic states, will mostly benefit from new and expanded platforms for cooperation.

Last but not least, in the current scenario of escalating international tensions, resuming the dialogue with Russia is a priority. Russia is the largest Arctic state, a global power, and a key economic and political partner. Even if relations in the Arctic have been affected only marginally by the Ukrainian crisis, interrupting the dialogue within the Arctic “family” would be detrimental to the region itself.

Human dimension of the Arctic

During the course of the Arctic 101 series, we mentioned many achievements and gaps in the empowerment of indigenous peoples of the Arctic, at both the national and international levels. Many actions should be taken by national governments and by the international community to recognize and promote the rights of these peoples.

In response to the impact of climate change on local livelihoods, appropriate adaptation and mitigation measures are mostly needed, and they should be coupled with promoting the value of indigenous traditional knowledge.

Yet, what we would like to stress here is the need for a mindset change in approaching the issue of Arctic development and cooperation, “looking at the Arctic inside out”, as Dr. Funston said in his upcoming interview with Arctic 101. The Arctic is, first and foremost, the land of its indigenous peoples. As such, they should be protagonists and privileged interlocutors of any discourse regarding the High North.



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