All speakers agreed that the Council is definitely a success story in Arctic cooperation. However, according to different scholars, the Council have several areas where improvement could be an option:
Natalia Loukacheva, Canada Research Chair in Aboriginal Governance and Law at the University of Northern British Columbia, Canada, suggested that the Council could even take on the negotiations for further agreements. As a concrete example, she mentioned plastic and marine litter, which is a topic the Arctic Council Working Group “Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF)” is already working on. Further, such an agreement would fill an important gap since there is currently no legally binding agreement on this issue for the Arctic.
Annika Nilsson from the Stockholm Environment Institute highlighted the fact that it appears strange to have sustainable development and environmental protection as two separate pillars of the Arctic Council since environmental protection is usually part of sustainable development. “We need a more integrated notion of sustainable development, and the two concepts should not be in contrast to each other but rather integrated as a whole”, she said.
Heather Exxner-Pirot, Managing Editor of the Arctic Yearbook, criticized the Council’s Working Groups as silos that do not communicate well with one another and put too little effort in terms of impact. She further sees an imbalance in the Working Groups with most of them addressing environmental protection and just one explicitly dealing with sustainable development. “If we were to establish the Working Groups in 2018, they would surely look different than today”, she insisted. “We need to ask what are the key issues we need knowledge about today and then build the working Group structure around and across these”, she concluded.
Jennifer Spence from Carleton University gave a plan for tasks the Council faces for preparing for the future. First, the Council needs to clarify its role(s) since there are many different understandings among different groups as to what it means for the Arctic Council to be the “preeminent forum for addressing Arctic issues”. This includes considerations of continuity as a soft law body or of change to an international organization. “Both options should be discussed and its pros and cons put on the table”, Spence highlighted.
Second, the Council needs to identify policy priorities. “We need to put bounds on what the Arctic Council can achieve”, Spence said. Many topics currently abound that the Council already addresses or could address, ranging from pollution, capacity building, business, health, resources to biodiversity and economics. “We need to accept that there will be gaps but we thus need to discuss who should fill these gaps if it is not the Arctic Council, such as on economic development and security”, Spence concluded. Finally, the Council needs to make sure that it has the necessary capacity and resources to fulfil its tasks and to embed this in a process of strategic planning.