Interview with Arctic Council Observer: Poland

30 March 2020
Poland has had Observer status in the Arctic Council since 1998. As an Observer, Poland 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 Piotr Rakowski, Senior Advisor for Arctic Affairs at Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs about Poland’s interest in the Arctic, how the country takes part in Arctic Council projects and initiatives and its key actors that engage in Arctic work.

What is Poland’s interest in the Arctic region?

For many years, Poland has been involved in the Arctic through its research. For more than 40 years, the Polish Polar Station has operated in Hornsund, Svalbard on an annual basis. There are also four seasonal polar stations run by the Polish universities. So, Poland has a long-lasting footprint in Arctic research and science.

However, due to the rapidly changing world and detrimental consequences of climate change that are especially seen in the Arctic, the decision was taken to adopt the Polish Polar Policy as a tool for national actors for more enhanced engagement in this particular region and its implications. The draft is at the final stage of adoption, but the major objective is that Poland should be more present and engaged overall in Arctic affairs. Thus, Poland will continue its research activities, and also engage in other multinational fora and areas of cooperation for the sake of the Arctic’s future. It shall include international dialogue and diplomacy, economic partnerships based on the sustainability principles and overall analysis of the geopolitical situation.

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

Polish representatives are involved in various Arctic Council activities in different ways. First of all, Poland attempts to be involved in as many Working Groups, Task Forces and Experts Groups as possible. In particular, most recently Polish experts are participating in the works of the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) Working Group and the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) Working Group. Polish experts are also involved in the Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane (EGBCM).

Secondly, the specific working formula to enhance dialogue between the Senior Arctic Official (SAO) Chair, Observer States and the EU as well as the Arctic Council Secretariat and Working Group representatives was established (i.e. the so-called Warsaw Format Meetings). This is a sole national initiative that is not formally linked with the Arctic Council; however, it provides a working platform of dialogue and interaction between all the participants. It is also fully transparent, provides support for the chairmanship and the results of the meetings are shared with all SAOs.

Last but not least, Poland also tries to support Arctic Council activities via digital diplomacy tools, in particular on Twitter. A special account was established by the MFA (@PolarTaskForce) that highlights the most important activities of the Arctic Council and its members on regular basis.

What Arctic Council initiatives are you currently working on?

As indicated above, Poland is participating in chosen Working Group and Task Force activities as well as Expert Groups.

A special project that Poland – alongside the U.S., Republic of Korea, Italy and the Northern Forum – is involved in was agreed under PAME and deals with enhancing the cooperation between the Observers and the Arctic Council in shipping-related activities. The project is currently ongoing.

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

The overall coordination of the policy towards the Arctic, understood as a part of the State’s foreign policy, is coordinated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The special role lies with the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, which is responsible for all the research and scientific activities in general and is involved with the polar research and specific institutions. It is worth mentioning that the Ministry adopted the concept of the Strategy of Polar Research for 2017-2027 and serves as a guidance to all relevant partners in this matter.

The other ministries that are relevant are inter alia the Ministry of Climate, the Ministry of Maritime Economy and Inland Waters, the Ministry of Development and the Ministry of National Defense. Other special administrative bodies and agencies competent in specific fields are also involved, especially in relation to foreign trade and economic cooperation, to name an example.

A special role lies with the chosen science and research institutions, including the Institute of Oceanology, the Institute of Geophysics and the Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics of the Polish Academy of Sciences. Additionally, major Polish Universities conduct teaching and research activities related to polar issues.

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.