The Arctic Council is the leading intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, Arctic Indigenous peoples and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, in particular on issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic. It was formally established in 1996.
The members of the Arctic Council are the eight Arctic States and the six Indigenous Permanent Participant organizations. There are six Working Groups within the Arctic Council, each of which focuses on a particular set of issues for the Arctic Council. In addition, the Arctic Council has more than 35 Observer states and organizations.
All Arctic Council decisions and statements require consensus of the eight Arctic States.
The Ottawa Declaration defines these states as Members of the Arctic Council. The eight States have territories within the Arctic and thus carry the role of stewards of the region. Their national jurisdictions and international law govern the lands surrounding the Arctic Ocean and its waters.
The Northern regions of the Arctic States are home to more than four million people, whose health and well-being is on the top of the Arctic Council’s agenda.
The category of Permanent Participants is a unique feature of the Arctic Council. Six organizations representing Arctic Indigenous Peoples have status as Permanent Participants. This category was created to provide a means for active participation of the Arctic Indigenous Peoples within the Council.
The Permanent Participants have full consultation rights in connection with the Council’s negotiations and decisions, and make valuable contributions to its activities in all areas. Their participation in the Council’s projects and initiatives is facilitated by the Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat.
The Aleut International Association (AIA) is a not-for-profit corporation that represents Indigenous peoples of Aleut descent in the United States and the Russian Federation.
The Arctic Athabaskan Council (AAC) is an international treaty organization that represents approximately 45,000 Indigenous peoples of Athabaskan descent spanning 76 communities in Alaska, US, Yukon and Northwest Territories in Canada.
Gwich'in Council International (GCI) represents the Gwich'in in Canada and USA.
The Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) is an international Indigenous Peoples Organization that was founded in 1977 by the late Eben Hopson, Sr. of Utqiagvik, Alaska.
The Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON) represents 40 Indigenous Peoples that live in the North of the Russian Federation.
The Saami Council is a non-governmental organization that represents between 50,000 to 80,000 Saami that live in Finland, the Russian Federation, Norway and Sweden. The Saami Council has nine member organizations: three in Norway, three in Sweden, two in the Russian Federation and one in Finland.
The Council's activities are primarily conducted in six Working Groups and one standalone Expert Group that cover a broad field of subjects, from climate change to emergency response, from mental health to sustainable development.
The Working Groups and Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane (EGBCM) provide a broad and scientifically-sound knowledge-base upon which informed decisions can be taken. They also develop best practices and recommendations for safe and sustainable operations in the Arctic.
ACAP’s mission is to contribute to the efforts to reduce environmental risks and prevent pollution of the Arctic environment. ACAP acts as a strengthening and supporting mechanism of the Arctic Council, encouraging national actions to reduce emissions and releases of pollutants and to reduce environmental, human health and socio-economic risks.
The mission of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme Working Group (AMAP) is to monitor and assess pollution and climate change issues in the Arctic. AMAP produces independent, science-based and peer-reviewed assessments of the status of pollution and climate change in the Arctic in order to provide the basis for sound policy- and decision-making.
CAFF is the biodiversity working group of the Arctic Council and consists of National Representatives assigned by each of the eight Arctic Council Member States, representatives of Indigenous Peoples' organizations that are Permanent Participants to the Council, and Arctic Council observer countries and organizations. The CAFF Working Group operates by the Arctic Council Rules of Procedures.
The Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response (EPPR) Working Group is mandated to contribute to the prevention, preparedness and response to environmental and other emergencies, accidents and search and rescue (SAR). While not an operational response organization, EPPR conducts projects to address gaps, prepare strategies, share information, collect data, and collaborate with relevant partners on capabilities and research needs that exist in the Arctic.
The PAME Working Group is the focal point of the Arctic Council’s activities related to the protection and sustainable use of the Arctic marine environment.
The Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG) focuses on the human dimensions of the Arctic. It works to protect and enhance the environment, economy, social conditions and health of Indigenous peoples and Arctic inhabitants.
Observer status in the Arctic Council is open to non-Arctic states, along with inter-governmental, inter-parliamentary, global, regional and non-governmental organizations that the Council determines can contribute to its work. Arctic Council Observers primarily contribute through their engagement at the level of Working Groups.
Thirteen Non-arctic States have been approved as Observers to the Arctic Council:
Intergovernmental and Inter-Parliamentary Organizations with an approved observer status.
Twelve Non-governmental Organizations are approved Observers in the Arctic Council.
The Council’s Strategic Plan 2021-2030 guides its work towards the Arctic as a “region of peace, stability and constructive cooperation, that is a vibrant, prosperous, sustainable and secure home for all its inhabitants, including Indigenous Peoples, and where their rights and wellbeing are respected.”
The Arctic Council was established on 19 September 1996 when the governments of Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States signed the Ottawa Declaration. The establishment of the Arctic Council was preceded by the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (June 1991), a declaration on the protection of the Arctic environment.
The Arctic Council regularly produces comprehensive, cutting-edge environmental, ecological and social assessments through its Working Groups.
The Council has also provided a forum for the negotiation of three important legally binding agreements among the eight Arctic States:
The Chairmanship of the Arctic Council rotates every two years among the Arctic States. The first country to chair the Arctic Council was Canada (1996-1998), followed by the United States, Finland, Iceland, the Russian Federation, Norway, the Kingdom of Denmark, and Sweden. The second cycle of Chairmanships began in 2013.
The Russian Federation chairs from 2021 to 2023.
Each Arctic State appoints a Senior Arctic Official (SAO) to manage its interests in the Arctic Council. Each SAO is thus a government representative, usually from an Arctic State's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The SAOs guide and monitor the Arctic Council's activities in accordance with the decisions and instructions of the Foreign Ministers of the Arctic States. That guidance is usually provided in the form of Ministerial Declarations, which are produced roughly every two years when the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council rotates.
SAOs and Permanent Participants meet at least twice a year, while all partners meet at Ministerial Meetings held every two years. These meetings are typically held in the Arctic State that holds the Chairmanship at the time of the meeting. Working Groups and Task Forces hold additional meetings in other locations and at other times.
The Arctic Council Secretariat is an administrative office that works under the direction of the Senior Arctic Officials and the Arctic Council Chairmanship. Any available vacancies at the Arctic Council Secretariat are posted on the Arctic Council website.
The Arctic Council is a forum; it has no programming budget. All projects or initiatives are sponsored by one or more Arctic States. Some projects also receive support from other entities.
The Arctic Council does not and cannot implement or enforce its guidelines, assessments or recommendations. That responsibility belongs to individual Arctic States or international bodies.
The Arctic Council’s mandate, as articulated in the Ottawa Declaration, explicitly excludes military security.