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Explainer: Why is Ireland looking for observer status at the Arctic Council?

Cabinet has agreed that Ireland should apply for observer status at the Arctic Council.

Arctic Fox sleeping in Alaska. An Arctic fox is on the logo of the Arctic Council.
Arctic Fox sleeping in Alaska. An Arctic fox is on the logo of the Arctic Council.
Image: PA Images

THE IRISH GOVERNMENT has applied for observer status at the Arctic Council. Why?

At a Cabinet meeting yesterday, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney asked government ministers to authorise Ireland’s application for Observer Status to the Arctic Council.

They agreed to the application.

It’s hoped gaining observer status at the Arctic Council will improve Ireland’s understanding of the impact climate change is having on the Arctic, and how that could affect Irish coastal and farming communities.

What is the Arctic Council?

The Arctic Council is an inter-governmental forum that addresses issues faced by the Arctic governments and their indigenous people – including climate change.

There are eight Arctic states in the Council, and 13 non-Arctic state observers. Observer states have no voting rights, but are invited to most Arctic Council meetings.

Ireland’s application is expected to be submitted this month. This needs to be approved at the next the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting, which is due to be held in Iceland next May.

The Arctic states on the council are: 

  • Canada
  • Denmark 
  • Finland 
  • Iceland 
  • Norway 
  • Russia 
  • Sweden 
  • USA 

Non-Arctic state observers include Germany, France, and the UK. Organisations can also apply for observer status to the Arctic Council (the WWF, for instance, is a current observer).

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Why are we applying for it?

Part of the reasons Ireland is understood to be applying for observer status is that changes taking place in the Arctic can have a direct impact on Ireland.

Participation in the Arctic Council, it’s hoped, will better inform the Irish government on environmental issues like the effect climate change has on sea levels.

Ireland is also part of initiatives that may be promoting the same values or pursuing the same goals as the Arctic Council:

  • The Network of Arctic Researchers in Ireland and agencies such as the Marine Institute
  • Ireland currently holds the chair of the OSPAR Commission which is charged with protecting the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic. In this role, Ireland is pushing a ‘Northeast Atlantic Marine Environment Strategy’ that will tackle climate, biodiversity and marine litter issues
  • Ireland is involved in delivering a proposed high seas Marine Protected Area to protect seabirds (641,000 sq.km) for the OSPAR ministerial meeting in 2021.

Ireland is currently in discussions with members of the Arctic Council about its application.

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