Iqaluit’s Arctic Economic Council – Future for the people of the North?

The Arctic Economic Council (AEC) is a new independent body established between the members of the Arctic Council (AC), the eight Arctic states, and the six Indigenous Peoples Organizations appointed Permanent Participants. The newly established AEC held its first meeting between September 1st and 3rd in Iqaluit, Canada.

“Development for the people of the North”
The AEC is meant to foster sustainable development by supporting economic development, environmental protection, and social development. For the future, the AEC is also tasked to enhance economic conditions of indigenous peoples and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), reducing obstacles to trade.[1]

The AEC is considered the main achievement of the Canadian chairmanship of the Arctic Council. The slogan of the current chair is “Development for the people of the North”, and it finds expression in the institution of a body whose main goal is to bridge existing gaps in development of the region.

In the words of the Canadian Minister Leona Aglukkaq, “the AEC will bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to the table to facilitate business opportunities, trade, and investment in the best interest of Northerners. Eventually, the AEC will be able to facilitate discussions and information sharing with the Arctic business community that will help states and indigenous peoples make informed decisions in support of responsible resource development”. [2]

The Arctic Council and the AEC

Despite it was established with the support of the Arctic Council (AC), the AEC will live its own life and will be independent from the AC. It will serve as a platform for governments and industry to become involved in a constructive dialogue. Finland offered to chair the AEC and stated its commitment to establishing the AEC’s role in relation to the AC and other organizations. [3]

The AEC was envisaged as a circumpolar business forum rather than a formal body. Nevertheless, since its establishment, it seems to be taking a more formal structure. Member states and Permanent Participants sent representatives to the inaugural meeting to discuss the AEC’s future. Many business representatives attended the meeting, including figures from oil and gas industry, iron mining, tourism, and shipping. [4]

Hopes and concerns
Overall, it is hoped that the AEC will address some of the most pressing issues in the Arctic. Lack of infrastructures, severe weather conditions, insufficient search and rescue mechanisms, and poor mapping are only few of the many challenges connected to economic development in the High North.

In addition, as business interests grow in the Arctic, the need to ensure that development happens in a sustainable manner and to the benefit of indigenous communities becomes even more pressing.

Nevertheless, there is widespread concern that, since its start, the AEC does not present necessary premises for truly sustainable development for the people of the North.
Development, for the people of the North?
Neil Hamilton, Senior Polar Political Advisor at Greenpeace International, told Die Welt: “by creating an independent organization which answers to no one but has the authority to attend, work within, and manipulate the activities of the Arctic Council and its working Groups, the Arctic Council has severely undermined its own mandate”. [5] The concern is that AC is allowing business interests to gain the upper hand and grow outside its own body.
Moreover, despite the fact that sustainable development is listed among AECs priorities, clearly this initiative puts emphasis on business and commerce. It remains to be seen how the newly established AEC will carry out its mission and what room will be left to sustainability and inclusion of local communities.

[1] Arctic Journal, 2014. “The newly founded Arctic Economic Council tasked with fostering sustainable development in the Arctic”. Availlable at
[2] Arctic Journal, 2014. Text of speech by Leona Aglukkaq at founding meeting of Arctic Economic Council. Available at
[3] Arctic Journal, 2014. “The newly founded Arctic Economic Council tasked with fostering sustainable development in the Arctic”. Availlable at
[4] Deutsche Welle, 2014. “New Economic Council speeds Arctic commerce”. Available at
[5] Ibid.