Arctic decisions made at national and international levels: Alaska has limited role as a state, some Alaskans can have influence.

Author:Anjum, Shehla

Third and final part of a series

The Arctic is opening, posing opportunities as well as risks. Some see the potential for oil and gas exploration and new shipping routes as positives. Others see dire consequences from severe storms, wildlife effects, coastal erosion, and melting permafrost.

As the nation's only Arctic state, Alaska will feel the effects first, for better or worse. But it is unclear how much Alaskans can influence key Arctic policy decisions. Those decisions are made far from the state on the national and international levels, and Alaska's role is limited.

Nations that share the Arctic, and even nations far from the north, like China, Singapore, and India, are now part of a multinational group, the Arctic Council. Alaska is not part of this.

Alaskans must work through the channels they have, which are several, to influence the US delegation to the Arctic Council.

Eight nations that are considered "Arctic" formed the Arctic Council in 1996 and are its permanent members. They include Canada, Denmark (which includes Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States, because of Alaska. However, the member states are not bound by a treaty and the Council has no legal authority on its own.

Nations rotate the chairmanship at two-year intervals. Sweden has completed its turn, and Canada is now the chair. The United States will take over as chair in 2015. In 2017 the United States turns the chairmanship over to Finland. Though its status is informal, the Council does now have a full-time Secretariat, or staff office, that is located in Stockholm.

Every two years, when the chairmanship rotates, the council meets in a ministerial-level session and issues a formal, but non-binding "declaration" that reviews past work and outlines future projects.

The Council's agreements are those of its members, which pledge themselves to enforce the agreements. Two agreements have been adopted now: an emergency response agreement in 2011 and an oil spill response agreement reached this year. These do commit member states to pool resources in responses. Further agreements are likely. One being discussed is sharing research and providing access to members' Arctic continental shelves for research. This may be a touchy subject for some members, however, such as Russia and possibly Canada, who are sensitive to territorial sovereignty.

So how does Alaska fit into the Council's work? Procedurally, Alaska must work through the US delegates, which are headed by the US State Department. Formally, the US Secretary of State is the actual council member along with other members' counterparts of...

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