Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canada Focuses on Development at Arctic Council; Experts Fear Wrong Approach

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canada Focuses on Development at Arctic Council; Experts Fear Wrong Approach

Article excerpt

Canada takes control of Arctic Council in 2013


Canada will use its two years as leader of the circumpolar world to promote development and defend its policies, suggest federal politicians and documents.

But Arctic experts and those involved with the Arctic Council worry that's the wrong approach at a time when the diplomatic body is dealing with crucial international issues from climate change to a treaty on oil spill prevention.

The Arctic Council consists of the eight countries that ring the North Pole and also has participation from aboriginal groups. It has evolved since its 1996 birth in Ottawa from a research forum and diplomatic talking shop to a body that negotiates binding international treaties, such as last year's deal on Arctic search and rescue.

The chairmanship rotates every two years and Canada's next turn as leader begins in May. It takes over as the council nears completion of a treaty on oil spill prevention and as concerns grow over the regulation of possible Arctic fisheries and increased shipping in northern waters as ice levels decline.

"The issues have just escalated when you look at what's happening now with climate change," said Mary Simon, one of the negotiators of the agreement that created the council and a former Canadian ambassador for circumpolar affairs.

"Even the predictions that were (made) two years ago are way out. The Arctic is being looked at very differently by nations -- not just the eight that make up the Arctic Council, but other nations such as China and Japan."

Think-tanks including the Munk-Gordon Arctic Security Program and the Rideau Institute have urged an agenda that gets out in front of emerging issues. They've suggested that Canada could promote the protection of Arctic fisheries, the reduction of so-called black carbon -- or soot -- that accelerates the loss of sea ice and the adoption of mandatory safety standards for Arctic shipping.

"All of the issues are pressing," said Michael Byers, a professor of international law and an Arctic expert at the University of British Columbia. "Nobody can afford for the Canadian chair to sit on our hands for two years."

But a discussion paper circulated at meetings held across the North to gather input suggests that Canada's top priority will be development.

"The development of natural resources in a sustainable manner, in which northerners participate and benefit, is central to the economic future of the circumpolar region," says the paper. "Arctic Council initiatives could be built around and support Canada's priorities to increase investment and development in the northern resource sector."

The paper also mentions the need for "responsible and safe" Arctic shipping.

Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who will represent Canada on the council, says it's also a good chance to correct international misconceptions. …

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