Interview with Arctic Council Observer: Spain

11 March 2020
Spain has had Observer status in the Arctic Council since 2006. As an Observer, Spain can contribute to the Arctic Council through meeting attendance, providing scientific expertise to Working Groups, project proposals and financial contribution (not to exceed financing from Arctic States, unless otherwise decided by the Arctic Council’s Senior Arctic Officials) and statements.

We spoke with Francisco Aguilera Aranda, Subdirector General at Spain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation about Spain’s interest in the Arctic region, how it engages with the Arctic Council and its contributions to the Council’s work.

What is Spain’s interest in the Arctic region?

Like every other Northern Hemisphere country, Spain is affected by the climate change effects on the Arctic. It is only natural for our country to show interest in developments taking place in the region. The Arctic is an area to which we are also historically linked, especially by the sea in seafaring, fishing, trade and more. We are very much aware of the Arctic as an area inhabited by humans since millennia, where different communities and states constitute societies with whom we share values, aspirations and interests. Spain, as a middle power with global connections and goals, wishes to participate in the Arctic dialogue and its institutions, and work with Arctic partners and friends towards a sustainable Arctic for its inhabitants and beyond.

How do you work with the Arctic Council to tackle pressing issues in the Arctic?

I believe the first rule is to listen and learn. Then, the best way is to accept all possible venues that the Arctic Council and the Arctic States offer Observers for interaction and participation. Currently, Spain is organizing domestically an “Arctic constituency”, which is meant to support and sustain an Arctic policy for the country in the long run. This approach is meant to provide with experts or officials responsible for a follow-up on Arctic topics and interact with our relevant Arctic colleagues, partners and friends. On the domestic front, it is my responsibility and that of others working on Arctic issues to channel all projects, priorities and information coming from the Arctic States and Permanent Participants to the appropriate national institutions for perusal and further action.

What Arctic Council initiatives are you currently working on?

We are still in the process of building up an “Arctic constituency” in Spain, by the invitation to all experts, bodies, agencies and institutions currently working or open to work on Arctic issues. Our call is successful so far and we are seeing an increase in our availability for Arctic work. With that aim in mind, we also have as our goal to guarantee Spanish participation at each of the Working Groups and, when feasible, at the Task Forces or Expert Groups. Currently we have succeeded in that, and there is now one Spanish official responsible for Spanish participation in each of the Arctic Council Working Groups, and a number of experts currently supporting the work of several Expert Groups. Once participating at each, we can be in a position to channel domestically all initiatives and projects and seek contributions. As a result, we have been increasingly committed to Arctic work. One of the most advanced discussions about practical participation between the Arctic Council and Spain is the Arctic Migratory Bird Initiative (AMBI), an initiative created by the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna Arctic Council Working Group. Spain has offered to host and provide financial support for the position of AMBI Coordinator for the African-Eurasian Flyway. There are now other initiatives, especially with the Arctic Council Working Groups Emergency Prevention Protection Response, Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment and Sustainable Development Working Group, that are now under consideration. We feel that we may be able to contribute effectively in fields like fisheries, energy, search and rescue, plastic litter, meteorology, shipping, sustainable development and more. We absolutely intend to participate and contribute in projects of each Working Group.

Who are the key actors in Spain engaging in Arctic Council work?

Spain has a Spanish Polar Committee (CPE), chaired by a Secretary General with political level, whose responsibility is to formulate and coordinate Arctic and Antarctic policies. The Committee is now in a process of further institutionalization. Representatives from different Ministries are present and participate at the CPE. So far, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Science are the leading bodies within the Spanish Government in terms of Arctic policy. But other Ministries are also involved, including the Ministry for the Ecological Transition, the Ministry of Transportation, Mobility and Urban Agenda, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishing and others. There are also institutions actively participating, such as the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) in the field of marine sciences and more, Universities, the Meteorological State Agency, the Geographic Institute, Technological Centers and others. Some of them are especially active through the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC), where Spain contributes experts and reports in all its Working Groups except one. We are now in the process to try to replicate this old and active participation through IASC, into the Arctic Council as well.

To learn more about the role of Observers and the criteria for admission, click here. You can learn more about the past and ongoing work of Arctic Council Observers through their activity reports and reviews.