Arctic Science Agreement

In 2017, members of the Arctic Council, the leading intergovernmental forum for the discussion of Arctic affairs composed of the eight Arctic states, adopted the legally binding agreement to enhance international scientific cooperation in the Arctic (”Science Agreement” or ”Agreement”) to address the challenge of access. The objective of the agreement is ”to improve cooperation in scientific activities in order to increase effectiveness and efficiency in the development of scientific knowledge on the Arctic” (Arctic Council, 2017: Art. 2). This is the first time that a legally binding agreement aims to promote scientific research in the Arctic throughout the Arctic (Smieszek, 2017: 444). ”The agreement shows once again that despite tensions between Russia and others, Arctic states are able to cooperate with each other,” added Balton, who was previously assistant secretary of state for oceans and fisheries at the State Department, where he also worked with the Arctic Council. A summary of relevant laws on scientific research in the Arctic shows that an international agreement is needed to facilitate access for scientists (Weidemann, 2014:140). Countries` national laws regulate the entry and exit of researchers, scientific equipment, instruments, data and samples under their sovereign jurisdiction. Within a country, subnational governments may issue different and additional regulations for permits required for scientists. At the international level, the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) regulates access for scientists conducting research in marine science; The 1973 Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears requires parties to facilitate access for scientists researching polar bear species. and the Treaty of Svalbard of 1920 calls on its contracting parties to promote favourable conditions for scientific research in the Norwegian archipelago of Spitsbergen. These agreements do not cover the entire Arctic geographic region or all areas of scientific research.

For Arctic scientists working in different jurisdictions, it can be difficult to identify all relevant laws and procedures.2 International scientific cooperation serves the common interests of many states. The scientific agreement underlines the role that a legally binding instrument can play in strengthening this cooperation. This assessment of the agreement suggests that a legally binding instrument can play a role, but its success depends on states` ambitions. Given the number of climate changes currently occurring in the Arctic and around the world, it may be useful to explore the potential of a legally binding agreement to see how this tool can help states understand these changes. According to the map presented here, the geographic area of the United States covered by this agreement includes areas north of the Arctic Circle and north and west of the border formed by the Porcupine, Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers; the Aleutian Mountains; and adjacent marine areas in the Arctic Ocean and the Beaufort, Bering and Chukchi Seas. This area is based on the definition of the Arctic region of the United States in section 112 of the Arctic Research and Policy Act of 1984, as amended. The agreement ”facilitates scientific cooperation across national borders and paves the way for joint responses by Arctic states to new challenges in the region caused by global climate change and increased human activity,” Vladimir Barbin, the Russian Federation`s top Arctic official, said in a statement made available to Eos on Monday before the agreement entered into force. This briefing note examines the legal implications of the Scientific Agreement on States and the potential of the Agreement to achieve its objective of improving international cooperation in arctic scientific research. The science agreement creates new obligations for states to improve access for scientists. The legal nature of these commitments may be sufficient to incentivize states to invest more political and financial capital in the subject matter of the agreement (Wood-Donnelly, 2013:300) and to empower bureaucrats to overcome national political obstacles (Takei, 2014:367; Nowlan, 2011: 58; Shaffer and Pollack, 2011:1162).

The text of the agreement gives States great flexibility in interpreting their obligations in implementation. This flexibility allows states with ambitious plans to make robust changes, but it also allows states that are ambivalent about the provisions of the agreement to act with complacency. This paper concludes that the potential of this agreement to improve international scientific cooperation is uncertain, as the agreement depends essentially on the interests of each State. In the agreement, each party designated a body to act as a `national competent authority` as the competent contact point for the agreement. .