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Arctic Circle takes shape
Corporations, interest groups, non-polar countries to weigh-in on circumpolar issues

Peter Worden
Northern News Services
Published Monday, May 6, 2013

A new circumpolar forum plans to bring form to the "fractional conversations" taking place beyond the Arctic Council and bring companies, interest groups and non-polar countries into the fold.

Alice Rogoff, co-founder of the new Arctic Circle, said the exponential growth at smaller conferences was not productive.

"It is a way of giving people a microphone and distilling the conversation into useful dialogue," said Rogoff, who does double-duty as publisher of the Alaska Dispatch newspaper and recently began to plan the Arctic Circle along with Icelandic President Ólafur Grímsson. She said it was imperative to "take useful action at the same rate the ice is melting."

"The ice is melting so fast; there's the idea of an ice-free shipping route ... by 2020. It's a very big thought. I have a hard time with it myself," she said.

Unlike the Arctic Council, whose membership is notoriously exclusive, the Arctic Circle's membership will be wide open.

Already, the new group has seen interest by parties from non-Arctic countries such as India and China as well as, at present, about two dozen other organizations from Google to big oil companies before the Arctic Circle has convened for its first meeting. Rogoff said she hopes to have a critical mass of people for a "cross pollination" of ideas.

She added that with so many nations vying for permanent observer status on the Arctic Council and with many various parties and countries eyeing the North, it could take some pressure off the Arctic Council.

The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum that formed in 1996 to co-ordinate environmental protection and sustainable development between Arctic nations. At present, the eight Arctic nation members are Canada, the United States, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden.

The council meets every six months and releases scientific and technical reports on issues such as climate change and shipping. It involves Arctic Indigenous communities in discussions and is chaired on a rotated basis for two years at a time by member nations. Only countries with Arctic territory can be members, however, non-Arctic countries can apply for observer status.

In response to whether the new group would rival the Arctic Council, Rogoff said she doesn't see the group detracting from the primacy of the Arctic Council but instead working with it.

"I have seen that spin put on by, I think, a Canadian newspaper," she said. "Our thinking has been quite frankly the opposite."

The Arctic Circle, she says, will be limited in its power and act as one more place people can convene and "discussions could be raised in an international way ... for Arctic Council consideration."

Nunavut MP and Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq will assume the chair role for the Arctic Council this May. Canada will chair the council for two years before the United States takes over for the following two years.

"The big caveat is that it's a very, very partial list (of parties currently interested in the Arctic Circle)," said Rogoff. "We don't yet have a Canadian representative."

Rogoff said she hoped Aglukkaq would be interested, but since neither she nor Grímsson know Aglukkaq personally, they hadn't met yet to discuss or made cold call. In an e-mail, Aglukkaq stated her government works closely with other Arctic states to promote and protect international Northern interests.

"Canada regards the Arctic Council as the main body for co-operation in the region. We will see how the agenda for the Arctic Circle unfolds and determine our participation closer to the date," Aglukkaq stated.

Rogoff is a former journalist and chief financial officer of U.S. News and World Report. She became the majority owner of Alaska Dispatch Publishing LLC, and under the Dispatch banner, held a summit called Arctic Imperative that Grimsson attended. She said he liked the model of people from the Arctic coastline of Alaska engaging in discussion and it sparked the idea of the Arctic Circle.

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