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Event summary: Sustainable Development Working Group meeting, October 2016

The Arctic Council’s Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG) met on 1-2 October, 2016 in Orono, Maine. The group focused on the progress of its projects and potential deliverables for 2017 Ministerial meeting.

The SDWG gathered in Orono, Maine on 1-2 October, 2016 to discuss its current and future work. The group last met in Barrow, Alaska in March, 2016.

The acting Chair of the SDWG (Ann Meceda, U.S.) led delegates from the eight Arctic States and six indigenous Permanent Participant organizations through discussions on the group’s numerous projects. These projects, which embrace a wide range of topics, include:

- The Economy of the North (ECONOR III);
- Reducing the Incidence of Suicide in Indigenous Groups–Strengths United through Networks (RISING SUN);
- Operationalizing a One Health Approach in the Arctic (One Health);
- Improving Health through Safe and Affordable Access to Household Running Water and Sewer (WASH);
- Arctic Indigenous Youth, Climate Change and Food Culture (EALLU);
- Arctic Remote Energy Networks Academy (ARENA);
- The Arctic as a Food-Producing Region;
- the Arctic Renewable Energy Atlas (AREA);
- the Arctic Adaption Exchange Portal, and
- ongoing work on indigenous languages.

Delegates also agreed to formally endorse an Iceland-led project called “Gender Equality in the Arctic II”. As the incoming SDWG Chair (2017-2019), Finland proposed three initiatives for its Chairmanship, dealing with Arctic environmental impact assessment (EIA), Arctic teacher training, and preparing for the upcoming Arctic Energy Summit 2017.

The SDWG also conducted in-depth discussions on strategic planning and work plans at their meeting.

Speaking shortly after the meeting, acting Chair Ann Meceda said:
“We are very grateful to our hosts at the University of Maine, the lovely town of Orono and the Abbe Museum for their hospitality. These locations provided a great backdrop for a productive meeting which confirmed that the group is on track to complete a number of key projects supporting sustainable development in the Arctic by the end of the U.S. Chairmanship next May. We also look forward to a strong work plan for the Finnish Chairmanship to follow.“

As is common after SDWG meetings, delegates in Orono participated in outreach events. As the meeting was held on the campus of the University of Maine, SDWG members met with students majoring in political science, marine biology, marine chemistry, etc. SDWG delegates formed groups according to five themes covering the SDWG’s areas of expertise (renewable energy in the Arctic; climate change; traditional indigenous knowledge; physical and mental well-being of the people of the North; improvement of living conditions and food security in the Arctic), and then held brief roundtable discussions with students who rotated through the five themes.

Another inspiring meeting took place in the Abbe Museum (Bar Harbor, Maine), where representatives of the Wabanaki or “People of the First Light” (a collective name for five Maine Indian tribes) introduced SDWG delegates to their history, traditions, and contemporary culture. Participants embraced this unique opportunity to compare and contrast their experiences in the Arctic or sub-Arctic, and in North America or Eurasia.

The SDWG is the subsidiary body within the Arctic Council responsible for advancing sustainable development, which includes protection of the environment and enhancement of economies, culture and health of indigenous peoples and Arctic communities, as well as improvement of the environmental, economic, and social conditions of Arctic communities as a whole.

The meeting was attended by representatives from all eight Arctic States, all six Permanent Participant organizations, and six accredited Observers (Germany, Italy, Association of World Reindeer Herders, IASC, IASSA, and Northern Forum).

The next regular meeting of the SDWG will take place on 7-8 February 2017 in Kotzebue, Alaska.