04/24/2015 12:16 EDT | Updated 07/24/2015 03:59 EDT

Arctic Council meeting sees end of Canada's term as chair

Canada is handing off its two-year chairmanship of the Arctic Council to the United States during today's meeting in Iqaluit. 

Senior diplomats and ministers from eight Arctic nations, as well as leaders of northern indigenous groups, are gathered in Nunavut's legislative assembly to discuss shared issues and mutual co-operation. The meeting is being chaired for the final time by Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who represents Canada on the council.

"As a Canadian, born and raised in Canada's Arctic, I am proud Canada has advocated putting northerners at the forefront of the Arctic Council agenda," Aglukkaq said in her opening statement, which outlined Canada's leadership of the intergovernmental forum over the past two years.

It includes the creation of the independent Arctic Economic Council, bringing attention to mental health in the region, and addressing climate pollutants such as black carbon.

Aglukkaq also emphasized the need for the council to be accountable to people living in the north.

Protecting environment

"As Canada concludes our chairmanship today, I know this; a successful Arctic means we must incorporate the people into our future decisions," she said.

The U.S., represented by Secretary of State John Kerry, is taking over as chair, and said it plans to put climate change at the centre of its two-year term. It has outlined a program of measures to protect the Arctic environment, such as developing better ways to deal with marine pollution.

The Arctic Council's mandate is to protect the Arctic environment and promote sustainable development in the northern communities that share the top of the world. 

Aglukkaq has said she will use the meeting as an opportunity to deliver Canada's "tough message to Russia for their aggression against Ukraine." Russia's delegation to the conference is being led by Environment Minister Sergei Donskoi.

Critics say allowing geopolitics to enter in the council's discussion runs counter to its philosophy of consensus and could risk dysfunction.