Thursday, October 17, 2013

Arctic Circle: A New Initiative in Arctic Dialogue

by Kamrul Hossain

Yet another leader – Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson – the President of Iceland has stepped in to warn the world of the consequences of the changes occurring in the Arctic. It was exactly 25 years ago in October 1987, the then Soviet leader Michael Gorbachev, in the landmark Murmansk initiative, announced the Arctic as a “zone of peace”, which created the basis for the establishment of an inter-governmental cooperation body known as “Arctic Council”. Since 1996 the Arctic Council has been successfully dealing with Arctic Affairs addressing multiple issues that affect Arctic environment and societies and its people including highlights on its significant number of indigenous peoples. While the inter-governmental body as a whole is a closed one involving only the eight Arctic states, in recent years, rapid changes occurring in the Arctic have got eye opening situation also for the non-Arctic nations from the rest of the world. The Arctic Council although has recently added six non-Arctic nations as observers, the latter nevertheless do not have any effective role to play rather than only observing the meetings.

President Grímsson’s initiative – Arctic Circle – thus finds a place where not only the Arctic states, actors, stakeholders and its people will have a role to play, but also it involves all other actors, regardless of where-so-ever they are from, either effected by the changes taking place in the region or have got legitimate interests in the Arctic. These actors include nation states, as well as business companies, academics, policy analysts, think tank institutions, NGOs, media etc. The first meeting of the initiative has just taken place in Icelandic capital Reykjavik from 12-14 October 2013. Quite an impressive number of states’ representatives including Ministers and Ambassadors both from Arctic and non-Arctic nations attended the meeting. President Putin of Russia sent Mr. Artur Chilingravo – the Russian polar explorer, who became a legendary figure after planting Russian flag in 2007 underneath the North Pole – as his special envoy, who explained Russia’s position in the Arctic. What makes the event special was an all-inclusive participation from variety of different sectors including, among others business sectors, such as shipping, oil and gas, tourism etc.            

The three day conference was full of interesting presentations, both academic and non-academic, from a range of issues of Arctic interests. The presentations brought both alarming pictures pertaining to climate change and environmental consequence as well as the pictures on new opportunities bringing economic boom to the region. On one hand the presentations show the concerns from environmentalists, and on the other hand they also show responses from companies on ways how they see things are moving ahead with sufficient precaution based on the available scientific knowledge of the region. Interestingly, the conference has seen huge interactions on cross-sectoral issues. Listening to each other’s views, discussions and dialogues amongst participants from multiples sectors with differing interests brought innovation in dealing with the Arctic. The repercussion of disseminated knowledge definitely brings significant incentives where balanced actions for sustainability have been the highlighted issue. The full of presentations have not limited the conference itself to only a venue for serious discussions. It had a lot of fun part too. For many it has also been a venue for meeting good old colleagues as well as a ground for network building.         

It is not yet completely clear, what future does the Arctic Circle predict – whether it aims to emerge as a formal institution or not – President Grímsson, nevertheless, desires to hold the gathering as an annual event every year. It is thus yet to be seen in which direction Arctic Circle moves, but for sure its annual gathering will bring new insights in knowledge building and sharing within the Arctic itself, and with the rest of the world.     

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