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Finland looks to put education, environment at top of Arctic agenda

Finland takes over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council from the United States this week. The Finnish government will emphasise action to fight climate change and aim to share expertise in education during its two-year chairmanship of the multilateral body.

Venäjän pääministeri Dmitri Medvedev ja puolustusministeri Sergei Shoigu lumikinosten keskellä.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev(left) and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu visiting Franz Josef island in March. Image: Ekaterina Shtukina / EPA

Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini heads to Fairbanks, Alaska this week for a meeting of foreign ministers from the countries that make up the Arctic Council. It's an important trip for Finland, which takes over the rotating two-year chairmanship of the council at a delicate time in international politics.

The council comprises the five Nordic countries plus the United States, Canada and Russia. At this week's summit the assembled ministers will sign a declaration on the promotion of international co-operation in scientific research.

"Asian countries are particularly interested in the development of the Arctic region for the extraction of natural resources and also because climate change is already affecting Asia significantly," said Tero Vauraste of Arctia Oy, Finland's state-owned icebreaking company.

Tricky stage

Vauraste is also chair of the Arctic Economic Council, which is a forum for dialogue between the Arctic Council itself and the business community.

The Finnish chairmanship begins at a tricky stage in Arctic history, with uncertainty hanging over co-operation in the region. EU and US sanctions and Russia, and the Trump administration's plan to cut spending on climate change and environmental protection programmes, have cast a shadow over the council's work.

According to the office of the Prime Minister, Finland plans to emphasise environmental protection, connectivity, meteorology and education during its term at the helm, with the Paris Agreement to combat climate change front and centre. That outlook reflects the priorities of environmental groups.

Climate change key

"Success in stopping climate change will decide the Arctic region's future," said Laura Meller of Greenpeace, which along with other environmentalist groups is lobbying to stop drilling for oil in the Arctic.

One of Finland's proposed measures is to ensure that all meetings during its chairmanship are as environmentally sustainable as possible. To that end it has agreed with WWF that local foods will be used as much as possible and organisers will seek out sustainable transport options.

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