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International Cooperation

EPA's Role in the Arctic Council

Logo of the U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic CouncilThe Arctic Council, established in 1996, is a high level international forum that promotes cooperation among Arctic nations on sustainable development and environmental protection.  As the Arctic environment changes, leading to increased shipping, economic, and other activities, it becomes increasingly important that the U.S. work closely with our Arctic allies.  
Iceland is currently the chair of the Arctic Council, a position which rotates every two years among the eight nations of the Arctic Council. The United States assumed the chairmanship of the Arctic Council from Canada in April 2015 and concluded its leadership in May 2017.

There are six permanent workgroups under the Arctic Council. EPA leads U.S. government participation in the Arctic Contaminants Action Programme (ACAP) Working Group,Exit which seeks to reduce contamination from hazardous chemicals and waste, improve air quality and reduce emissions of black carbon and other short lived climate forcers. EPA also serves as the US head of delegation to the Project Support Instrument (PSI), Exit the new funding mechanism for Arctic Council projects.

Visit the official website of the Arctic Council Exit


Ministerial Meeting

The 11th Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council, held in May 2019 in Rovaniemi, Finland, marked the end of the Finnish chairmanship and the beginning of the Icelandic chairmanship. This meeting is generally attended by the foreign affairs minister of each Arctic nation. For the United States, the Secretary of State typically assumes this role.

Local Environmental Observer Network

EPA is leading a project to expand the Local Environmental Observer (LEO) Network, Exit a tool that allows local practitioners of traditional knowledge to capture and share environmental observations and changes with other Arctic nations.  These observations help remote Arctic communities communicate with one another and with experts in universities and governments, and can also be used by industry and other stakeholders to understand the current weather and climatic situation in areas where monitoring data is sparse.

Using a phased approach, EPA and its partners established a North American LEO chapter, developed a framework for expansion in other parts of the Arctic, and are currently working to identify new potential LEO hubs to service remote communities in the Nordic Arctic. 

Black Carbon & Particulate Matter

EPA is engaging with partners from government agencies, U.S. Arctic and Russian universities and non-governmental organizations, Russian and Arctic stakeholders, and indigenous communities on steps to reduce diesel black carbon emissions in the Russian Arctic. This effort will help provide more reliable electricity to remote Arctic communities, reduce local air pollution, and minimize soot emissions which accelerate melting of snow and ice. 

One pilot project in this effort engaged a regional bus company in Murmansk, Murmanskavtotrans (MAT), in partnership with Battelle Memorial Institute (Battelle), the Nordic Environmental Finance Corporation (NEFCO), Murmansk State Technical University, and WWF Russia. After attending the project’s 2013 Emissions Inventory training, the bus company decided to purchase more energy efficient buses for its bus fleet.  The result was reduced black carbon emissions, decreasing operations and maintenance costs, and improved reliability of public transportation. This pilot project also spurred competing bus companies in Murmansk to make similar investments. 

Another demonstration project in this effort engaged the Tundra Agricultural Cooperative, an indigenous reindeer herding group on the Kola Peninsula of Russia,  to replace an obsolete stationary generator with a mobile, integrated wind-diesel generator at their station on the eastern stretch of the Kola peninsula. This project successfully reduced black carbon emissions at the station and reduced diesel fuel consumption, while also stabilizing energy supply to the remote outpost. The pilot led to the Tundra developing plans for a photo-voltaic installation at a second location on the peninsula.

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About the Arctic Council

The Arctic Council was established in 1996 by the Ottawa Declaration. Exit It is the preeminent intergovernmental forum for addressing issues related to the Arctic region.

Who participates in the Arctic Council?

  • The eight Member States are Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States.
  • In addition, the Permanent Participants category provides for active participation of, and full consultation with, the Arctic Indigenous representatives within the Arctic Council. Aleut International Association (AIA), Arctic Athabaskan Council (AAC), Gwich'in Council International (GCI), Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), Saami Council, and Russian Arctic Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON) are Permanent Participants.
  • Non-arctic states, inter-governmental and inter-parliamentary organizations, and non-governmental organizations may obtain Observer Status in the Council. Learn more about Arctic Council observers. Exit

How does the Arctic Council work?

  • The Chairmanship of the Arctic Council rotates between the eight Member States every two years. The state holding the Chairmanship organizes meetings for Council members, participants, and observers, coordinates joint projects, and represents the Arctic Council externally.
  • The scientific and technical work of the Arctic Council is carried out in six expert Working Groups, which meet at regular intervals throughout the year.
  • Ministers may establish Task Forces composed of Working Group experts and Member State representatives to work on specific topics of concern for limited periods of time.

Learn more about Task Forces of the Arctic Council. Exit

Working Groups of the Arctic Council

The six Working Groups of the Arctic Council are: 

Each Working Group has a Chair, a Management Board or Steering Committee, and includes expert participants from government agencies and research entities. Observer States and Organizations may also attend Working Group Meetings and may participate in specific projects.

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EPA @ Arctic Council

EPA leads U.S. government participation in the Arctic Contaminants Action Programme (ACAP) Working Group,Exit which seeks to reduce contamination from hazardous chemicals and waste, as well as reduce emissions of black carbon and other short lived climate forcers (SLCFs).  EPA also plays a leadership role in several specialized task forces such as co-chairing the Short Lived Climate Pollutants (SLCP) Expert Group, Exitwhich focuses on black carbon, methane and associated tropospheric ozone.  Through this group, EPA works on the reduction of black carbon from diesel sources in the Russian Arctic.

In ACAP, EPA works with its partners to identify sources of contamination, demonstrate pollution control technologies, and implement projects which can be replicated throughout the Arctic. These projects typically include partners from multiple Arctic nations that cooperate to implement projects through technical Expert Groups (EG). EPA has played a leadership role in ACAP projects, such as:

1. Short Lived Climate Pollutants.  These are gases or particles which remain in the atmosphere for a few days or weeks, but warm the climate by trapping outgoing radiation from leaving the earth’s surface. The first project of this EG, which was proposed by the United States, focuses on black carbon, one of several Short Lived Climate Pollutants.  Recent studies have suggested that black carbon may be responsible for 30-50 percent of observed warming in the Arctic.

2. Mercury. Exit EPA is also actively working to reduce mercury emissions, including in the Arctic. In June 2010, EPA began a collaborative mercury control project to demonstrate the effectiveness of sorbent technology in reducing mercury emissions at a coal-fired power plant in the Russian Federation. Coal-fired power plants are a major source of global mercury emissions. Preliminary test results, presented at the Mercury Emissions from Coal Experts (MEC) May 2012 meeting in St Petersburg, Russia, indicate mercury emission capture efficiencies of up to 90 percent, confirming similar efficiencies to those found in the U.S. can occur using Russian coals, with possible application to other countries. Other mercury projects under this EG focus on zinc smelting and gold production. Project results will also inform implementation of the Minamata Convention on Mercury.

3. Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and Hazardous Waste Management Strategy. Cooperation to safely store and manage POPs and other hazardous wastes can help ensure that dangerous chemicals released in one part of the Arctic do not impact the ecosystems and populations in other parts. This EG has put nearly 70,000 tons of obsolete pesticides in the remote Russian Arctic into safe interim storage facilities while considering safe disposal methods. 

EPA also participates in other ACAP activities such as the Indigenous People’s Contaminants Action Program, which aims to increase the involvement of Arctic indigenous communities in reducing exposure and impact of contaminants in their communities.

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For additional information on EPA's work with the Arctic Council, contact:
Hodayah Finman
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of International and Tribal Affairs (2670R)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20460
(202) 564-6600