International Cooperation

EPA's Role in the Arctic Council

Arctic Council Logo

The Arctic Council  promotes cooperation among Arctic nations on sustainable development and environmental protection. Established by the Ottawa Declaration in 1996, the Arctic Council is a high-level intergovernmental forum composed of eight nations with territory in the Arctic.

EPA leads U.S. government participation in the Arctic Contaminants Action Programme (ACAP) Working Group, Exit which seeks to reduce emissions of pollutants into the environment.  The Arctic is home to unique ecosystems and cultures that are changing rapidly due to climate change.

Visit the official website of the Arctic Council Exit

Senior Advisor for International Organizations Hodayah Finman (seated, center) represented the United States at the Arctic Council in June 2011, and joined colleagues from other PSI contributors Finland, NEFCO, Norway, Sámi Parliament, Sweden, and the Russian Federation.

In June 2012, on behalf of the United States Government, EPA joined the Arctic Council’s Project Support Instrument (PSI), Exit a new financial instrument designed to attract resources and partners to Arctic Council-approved projects that reduce harmful contamination in this sensitive ecosystem. To help operationalize the PSI, U.S. EPA has provided $1 million for use in project(s) that will reduce black carbon emissions from diesel sources in Russia.

Consistent with ACAP’s ongoing work, other areas of planned PSI activity include projects to abate or eliminate the release of hazardous substances such as persistent organic pollutants and mercury and action on short-lived climate-forcing pollutants in addition to black carbon. The PSI is open to contributions from the eight Arctic Council member countries, observers, and other interested parties alike. The PSI is administered by the Nordic Environment Finance Corporation (NEFCO) Exit and pledges currently stand at U.S. $19.6 million.

About the Arctic Council

The Arctic Council promotes cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States by providing a high-level forum to the eight Arctic nations, with the involvement of Arctic Indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants, to engage on common issues – especially sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic. Starting in 1989, these states and groups convened to discuss efforts to enhance cooperation on the Arctic environment, which led to the Ottawa Declaration and establishment of the Arctic Council in 1996.

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.
  • Currently, Canada chairs the Arctic Council. Sweden concluded its Chairmanship in 2013, finalizing work on the common objectives agreed upon with Norway and Denmark, the previous two Chairs. The U.S. will Chair the Arctic Council starting in 2015.
  • The scientific work of the Arctic Council is carried out in six expert Working Groups, which meet at regular intervals throughout the year.
  • Ministers appoint Task Forces composed of Working Group experts and Member State representatives to work on specific topics of concern for limited periods of time.

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.

In 2013, Ministers convened four new Task Forces in the Kiruna Ministerial.

Learn more about those efforts, as well as past Task Forces. Exit

EPA @ Arctic Council

The United States is an active player in the Arctic Council, and regularly leads Working Groups and special Task Forces in support of key environmental and sustainable development objectives. These efforts support President Obama’s National Strategy for the Arctic Region (PDF), which recognizes that participation in the Arctic Council is a central element of protecting the U.S. Arctic and its unique ecosystem and cultures.

EPA leads U.S. government participation in the Arctic Contaminants Action Programme (ACAP)  Exit and has engaged in several of the specialized Arctic Council Task Forces Exit appointed by the Ministers. As of 2014, EPA had led U.S. Government participation in the Short Lived Climate Forcers Task Force Exit (2009-2013) and the high-level Task Force for Action on Black Carbon and Methane (established 2013). EPA also contributes technical expertise in support of the Task Force on Oil Spill Prevention and the Task Force on Science Cooperation, both established in 2013.

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. EPA played a leadership role in developing issue-specific Project Steering Groups (PSGs) as part of ACAP to directly address a range of important topics, including:

  • Short Lived Climate Pollutants 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 PSG 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.
  • Mercury. Exit EPA is also actively working to reduce mercury emissions in the Arctic, and chairs this PSG. 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 PSG focus on zinc smelting and gold production. Project results will also inform implementation of the Minamata Convention on Mercury.
  • Integrated Hazardous Waste Management Strategy. This PSG is developing an Integrated Hazardous Waste Management Strategy (IHWMS) for selected Northern regions of the Russian Federation, to improve waste management practices and decrease the negative impact on the Arctic environment from hazardous waste. The PSG is chaired by Russia, and co-chaired by USA and Norway.

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.

In March 2011, EPA hosted the ACAP Working Group meeting in Washington DC. EPA's Assistant Administrator for International and Tribal Affairs delivered the opening remarks for the meeting, and EPA staff from many program offices participated in the two days of PSG meetings that preceded the main ACAP Working Group meeting.


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