BBC News on May 15, 2013, reported that China is one of a number of countries that has gained permanent observer status on the Arctic Council. Excerpts below:
At a meeting in Sweden, the eight members of the Council accepted India, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Singapore.
However following dissent from Canada, a decision on the EU’s application has been deferred.
The opening up of the Arctic to shipping and oil and gas exploitation has fuelled worldwide interest in the region.
With a changing climate allowing ships to travel more cheaply and quickly across the Northern route, Asian countries with ship building industries are particularly interested in closer links to the region and the Council.
The Arctic Council was set up in the 1990s and has been mainly concerned with environmental matters including climate change and pollution, both of which are being felt more heavily in the Northern regions.
It has eight permanent members made up of the five coastal Arctic countries, Norway, Russia, Canada, US and Denmark – it also includes three other non coastal members, Finland, Iceland and Sweden.
It has limited powers, issuing non binding protocols on member states – but as the ice recedes and the wider exploitation of the region becomes possible, the rest of world has taken notice and wants to be involved.
Now the Council has accepted some of the world’s most important emerging powers into what has been dubbed the “coldrush club”, a name that reflects the opportunities many see for the exploitation of oil and gas resources in the region.
Up to 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves, and 30 percent of undiscovered gas deposits are said to lie above the Arctic Circle.
The meeting in Kiruna, Sweden, also agreed on a new manual that will govern the activities and roles of the observers. They will not be able to directly raise issues but will have to bring them forward through one of the eight core members.
But the Council was unable to agree on the application from the European Union.
The growing interest of countries like China and India in joining the Arctic Council reflects the changing nature of the body say observers. Another decision that reflects the beefing up of the Council’s activities was the acceptance of an oil spill preparation plan.
According to the Council this legally-binding agreement will substantially improve procedures for dealing with oil leaks in the Arctic.
Leiv Lunde is the director of the and a former special envoy on energy and climate change at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He says that the role of Council in the world is growing significantly.
“The Arctic Council has until now been an organisation for the environmental sectors of government – but you are moving into an area where there are bound to be tradeoffs and big fights about what will going to happen,” he said.