IQALUIT, Nunavut – Politicians and leaders from countries around the North Pole are arriving in this northern capital for a meeting of the Arctic Council.
Canada will end its two-year term Friday at the helm of the council, the main international body promoting co-operation in an increasingly busy and contested region. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will be in Iqaluit to take over as chairman.
Canada’s time at the head of the top of the world as been well-used, said federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who has led the council for the last two years.
She said major new studies have been commissioned. They include work on black carbon, a significant contributor to sea ice melt, and mental health.
The Canadian chairmanship has also seen the birth of the Arctic Economic Council, a self-selecting group of businesses from around the Arctic who will meet to discuss opportunities and best practices.
Critics have said the scientific work would have gone ahead regardless. They also question the need for the economic forum.
American officials have said the focus for their two-year chairmanship will be on climate change, considered to be progressing faster in the Arctic than anywhere on the planet.
This northern meeting, however, takes place under a slight diplomatic chill.
Council members have viewed with some alarm recent Russian activities in the Arctic, which have included massive military exercises involving tens of thousands of troops _ far more than any other Arctic nation has or could mobilize in the North.
Canadian Defence Minister Jason Kenney has referred to those actions as “aggressive.”
As well, Aglukkaq has promised to take up Russia’s activities in Ukraine with that country’s representative.
Russia is not sending Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, but Environment Minister Sergei Donskoi instead.
The public in the member nations seems to have picked up on the mood. A survey of 10,000 people from all eight of them suggested as much.
About one-third of the people surveyed in five of the eight countries believes the threat of armed conflict in the Arctic grew over the last year. That ranges from 24 per cent in the continental U.S. to 35 per cent in Norway.
Among Canadians, that percentage stands at 36 per cent in the south and 30 per cent among northerners.
And in Iceland, Finland and Russia, slight majorities agreed the Arctic is less peaceful this year than last.
Meanwhile, fewer than one in 10 surveyed in each country felt the threat had decreased in the region.
Other findings suggest respondents are still willing to give peace a chance in the North.
The survey found that support for military spending in the North has dropped in Canada. Only about half of southern Canadians agree, down from 60 per cent five years ago.
The survey also found only a minority supports taking a firm line with other countries in any future border disputes. Support for negotiation in such disputes has grown over the last five years, the survey says.