Warsaw
Warsaw
© Photo by Iwona Castiello d'Antonio on Unsplash

Poland’s contribution to active Observer Engagement: Piotr Rakowski on the Warsaw Format Meeting

24 June 2024
On June 6, Poland hosted the 8th Warsaw Format Meeting, a platform designed to facilitate a direct dialogue between representatives of the Arctic Council Observer States, the European Union, and the current Chairship of the Council. We spoke with Piotr Rakowski, Senior Advisor for Arctic Policy at the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, about the evolution of the meeting format over the years and the highlights that made the most recent meeting stand out.
The Warsaw Format Meeting 2024
© Joël Plouffe / Arctic Council Secretariat

Could you speak about the history of the Warsaw Format meeting: Why and how did Poland establish this meeting format and how has the format evolved?

Our previous Polish Ambassador to the Arctic and Antarctic developed the idea for a new platform outside of the Arctic Council’s formal structures that would allow Observer States to engage directly with the Council’s Chairship. This led to the establishment of the Warsaw Format Meeting in 2010.

Initially, the format put a strong focus on science and ongoing polar research. However, when I took over this portfolio in 2017, I noticed a tendency and perhaps a desire to move away from this science focus. Given that Poland and other non-Arctic States contribute to various international fora in the scientific realm, we decided to shift the Warsaw Format more towards a foreign policy instrument.

Then first the pandemic and then the pause of official Arctic Council meetings caused a hiatus in the Warsaw Format Meeting until we resumed under the Norwegian Chairship in September 2023. We felt that the suspension of Senior Arctic Officials’ plenary meetings, where Observers participate, has impacted the exchange between Observers and the Chairship. Our need for a space for exchange thus increased, resulting in a more dialogue-oriented format for our June 2024 Warsaw Format Meeting.

As the host, I felt we successfully demonstrated the value of this platform as a place to engage and discuss important Arctic issues. Having a direct exchange with the Chairship and other Observer States at this level is a good opportunity. Piotr Rakowski

How did you adjust the meeting to provide a more dialogue-oriented format?

We decided to include four specific topics on the agenda to reflect the substantive work the Council is undertaking in various areas, both within the remit of the Norwegian Chairship and beyond. One of the topics was the Chairship’s Wildland Fires Initiative, another climate and the cryosphere. We also decided to include gender equality, a subject which has been on the Council’s agenda for years, yet still is lacking sufficient data and research in an Arctic context. Finally, we invited a representative from an Observer organization, the WWF Arctic Programme, to discuss cooperation opportunities between Observers and exchange views on Arctic issues and the Council’s work.

After the presentations on these topics, we invited representatives of the Observer States to participate in the debate. For instance, Switzerland and India made strong interventions on the cryosphere topic, the European Union shared its work on monitoring and operational levels regarding wildland fires, and the Netherlands and France discussed their work on gender equality strategies.

As the host, I felt we successfully demonstrated the value of this platform as a place to engage and discuss important Arctic issues. Having a direct exchange with the Chairship and other Observer States at this level is a good opportunity.

Everyone was in accordance that more emphasis needs to be placed on issues such as wildfires and melting glaciers. There’s a need to engage both state and non-state Observers to address these vast and long-term issues. The expertise and professionalism of the Observers strengthen our efforts in addressing these urgent issues that no state or community on its own can tackle. Piotr Rakowski

What would you say were some of the key take aways for this meeting?

Everyone was in accordance that more emphasis needs to be placed on issues such as wildfires and melting glaciers. There’s a need to engage both state and non-state Observers to address these vast and long-term issues. The expertise and professionalism of the Observers strengthen our efforts in addressing these urgent issues that no state or community on its own can tackle.

Regarding gender equality, the issue was recognized as important and contemporary. While there have been many initiatives under the Arctic Council, there’s a need for more work at the conceptual phase to address gender inequality effectively.

Finally, Observer cooperation emerged as a crucial point, identifying the need for better recognition and inclusion of non-state Observers. State representatives often overlook the valuable contributions of NGOs and associations, focusing primarily on state-connected agencies. A more comprehensive approach to involving all players within the Arctic Council family is necessary to address the region's problems holistically and effectively and to ensure better cooperation among all bodies and actors.

The Warsaw Format Meeting is often highlighted in various conferences and seminars as an organic example of how foreign ministries can contribute and engage at a semi-political level with the Arctic States and the Chairship of the Arctic Council. It has filled a certain vacuum, offering added value without requiring enormous resources. Piotr Rakowski

How do you perceive the added value of the Warsaw Format Meeting, and what direction would you like to see it take in the future?

The Warsaw Format Meeting is often highlighted in various conferences and seminars as an organic example of how foreign ministries can contribute and engage at a semi-political level with the Arctic States and the Chairship of the Arctic Council. It has filled a certain vacuum, offering added value without requiring enormous resources.

I see significant added value in the Warsaw Format Meeting's ability to facilitate more flexible, brainstorming-oriented discussions on current and emerging issues. It allows participants to explore and address topics that might not fit into the more formal agenda of Arctic Council meetings. I hope that the current and future Chairship will see a value in these discussions and that we can contribute to the Council’s work in this way.

But in general, I also believe there is room for improvement. It would be beneficial to produce more concrete written results from these meetings to provide a valuable resource for future work. But I also mentioned during the most recent meeting, that Poland does not want to be monopolistic with this format. We are open to ideas on how the meeting can be further improved.

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