Interview with Arctic Council Observer: Japan

Japan has had Observer status in the Arctic Council since 2013. As an Observer, Japan 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 Kei Kuragane, Assistant Director for the Space and Maritime Security Policy Division, Foreign Policy Bureau, at Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We asked him about Japan’s interests in the Arctic, the Arctic Council projects Japan is involved in and the country’s key actors that engage in Arctic work.

What is Japan’s interest in the Arctic region?

Japan’s interests in the Arctic can be summarized in the following three parts, as the then Foreign Minister KONO Taro pointed out in his speech in Reykjavik, Iceland in October 2018:

1) The mechanism of environmental changes in the Arctic must be clarified and well understood, and the necessary responses to these changes must be shared with the international community;

2) “The rule of law” must be ensured and international cooperation must be promoted in a peaceful and orderly manner; and

3) Sustainable economic activities are to be pursued in the Arctic, while respecting the ecosystem and the life of Indigenous peoples.

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

Since Japan was granted Observer status to the Arctic Council in 2013, Japan has contributed to its activities in such areas as scientific research, which is Japan’s strength.

Collecting maritime data in the Arctic Ocean is essential to understanding the Arctic’s environmental change mechanisms. Japan has been contributing to research and scientific observations in the Arctic and promoting scientific cooperation in the region since the 1950s. Another example is the Arctic Data archive System (ADS), which Japan has been operating since 2012. This system allows open access to multiple observational and model simulation datasets on the website and contributes to enhancing scientific research in the Arctic.

What Arctic Council projects are you currently involved in?

Japanese scientists have been contributing to the activities of Arctic Council Working Groups and [current and former] Expert Groups – including the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME), Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG), Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response (EPPR), Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane (EGBCM) and the Scientific Cooperation Task Force (SCTF) through Japan’s Arctic research project, Arctic Challenge for Sustainability (ArCS).

AMAP, PAME, SDWG: Scientists of Japan’s Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) and Hokkaido University participate in the annual meetings of the AMAP, PAME and SDWG Working Groups. They also have been involved in Expert Groups under these Working Groups such as the Shipping Expert Group and the Social, Economic and Cultural Expert Group (SECEG). An expert of Niigata University is taking part in the AMAP Climate Initiative.

As for its involvement with CAFF, Japan is working on research on migratory birds in the Arctic. A scientist and officials from Ministry of the Environment participate in the annual meetings to make a contribution with scientific knowledge. Bird experts from National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR) have been involved in CBird and reported their research achievements in the ArCS project. In particular, for the Arctic Migratory Birds Initiative (AMBI), as one of the strategies under CAFF, Japan works on the implementation of the AMBI-EAAF Work plan 2019-2023 by building on and further adding the value on the existing frameworks of international cooperation.

For EGBCM, a black carbon expert of NIPR has been involved in the drafting of a report from the very beginning of the Expert Group.

Regarding SCTF, an expert on international law in Kobe University participated in the meetings of the task force which aimed to prepare the document of the Agreement on Enhancing International Arctic Scientific Cooperation.

Concerning EPPR, Japan Coast Guard had the very first opportunity to participate in the meeting in Bodø 2019. The Cabinet Office of Japan sent its expert to the EPPR meeting in December 2019, Reykjavik, who made a presentation about Japan’s nuclear emergency preparedness as well as legal framework for nuclear emergency management, based on Japan’s experience of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant’s incident in 2011.

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

The National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR), Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) and Hokkaido University - which are leading Arctic research institutions in Japan - have been providing scientific data to the Arctic Council. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) also contributes to the Council by providing valuable data (sea ice, etc.) obtained by its satellites. These institutions are the key players of “Arctic Challenge for Sustainability” (ArCS) project. Several ministries are engaging in AC activities: the National Ocean Policy Secretariat Cabinet office, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Ministry of the Environment, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and Japan Coast Guard. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs sends its senior official to the Arctic Council Ministerial meetings.

What is Japan's international cooperation in the field of science on the Arctic?

Since 2015, Japan’s Arctic research project “Arctic Challenge for Sustainability” (ArCS) has been mainly operated by three players, namely, the National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR), Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) and Hokkaido University. ArCS has contributed to the observation and analysis of climate and environmental changes in the Arctic as well as to the improvement of the projections and the environmental assessment in the Arctic. For the sake of further contribution to Arctic research activities, the Government of Japan continues its effort to develop an ArCS’ successor project (ArCSⅡ) as well as the new Arctic research vessel concept. Japan will host the next Arctic Science Ministerial Meeting, ASM3 in Tokyo, on 8-9 May 2021 with our co-organizer, Iceland, the Chair of the Arctic Council.

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.