Written by Joseph E Nolan, European Polar Board

International policy and policymaking relevant to the polar regions comes in various forms, from different organizations, and with different purposes. International polar policy can be developed to protect the environment, manage resources, support research, address issues at all latitudes, support polar communities, and many other purposes. In this way polar policy connects the #PolarWorld!

There are various different organizations working on issues affecting or affected by the polar regions. This blog post gives a brief overview of some of them, what they do, and how early career researchers might be able to contribute. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and focuses only on polar-specific organizations – there are many more (perhaps too many) organizations working on Arctic and Antarctic issues at national, regional and international levels. The extensive and active ecosystem of polar organizations is symptomatic of the fact that we really do live in a #PolarWorld.

It is useful for researchers at all stages of their careers to have a good understanding of the various relevant polar organizations that exist. It is often difficult to make sense of many acronyms and abbreviations used by different organizations, programs, and projects. I hope this blog post will go some way to clarifying the prevalent confusion, and gives an insight into some of the ways in which early career researchers can get involved with, or benefit from, the international community working on polar issues in different contexts.


The Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1959 and came into force in 1961. It has as its main purpose to ensure "in the interest of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue for ever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord”.

In 1991 the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty was signed in Madrid. The ‘Madrid Protocol’, as it has come to be known, entered into force in 1998. The Protocol designates Antarctica as a “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science” and, among other things, sets forth basic principles applicable to human activity in Antarctica. The Madrid Protocol established the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP) as an expert advisory body to Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings. To fulfil its advisory role, the CEP needs access to independent, relevant and up to date scientific advice on Antarctic environments and human activities in those environments. The Antarctic Environments Portal provides that resource, and allows researchers to submit papers for consideration.

Researchers can contact their national delegations to Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings and the CEP. For more information on the Antarctic Treaty System, and to find out about your national delegation, you can visit www.ats.aq.

Be sure not to miss an upcoming webinar, organised jointly by the European Polar Board and APECS on “The Antarctic Treaty and the protection of the environment”, given by Yves Frenot, Director of l’Institut polaire français Paul-Emile Victor (IPEV), on 23rd October – details will be available soon.

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) was established in 1982 in response to increased commercial interest in Antarctic krill resources. CCAMLR is a decision-making body with the objective of conserving Antarctic marine life. CCAMLR practices an ecosystem-based approach to management, and does not exclude sustainable harvesting in Antarctic waters, so long as the effects of fisheries on other components of the ecosystem are taken into account.

CCAMLR is responsible for establishing marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Southern Ocean, such as the new MPA in the Ross Sea – the 1.55 million km2 area will become the world’s largest MPA once it enters into force later in 2017.

CCAMLR has a Scientific Committee (SC-CAMLR), with all CCAMLR Members also being Members of SC-CAMLR. SC-CAMLR provides the Commission with the best available scientific information to help inform management decisions, including harvesting levels, for the Antarctic marine living resources.

Unlike Antarctica, there is no single treaty to guide policymaking across the Arctic as a whole. There is, however, the Arctic Council. The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum that promotes cooperation, coordination and interaction among the eight Arctic States, Arctic indigenous communities, and other Arctic inhabitants on common issues. Particular issues of focus include sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic.

The eight Members of the Arctic Council are Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States. Additionally, six organizations representing Arctic indigenous peoples have the status of Permanent Participants. These are the Aleut International Association, the Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich’in Council International, the Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, and the Saami Council. The Chairmanship of the Arctic Council rotates between the eight Arctic States every two years. Currently, Finland chairs the Arctic Council from 2017 to 2019.

The Arctic Council has six Working Groups, focused on different areas of work. They are the Arctic Contaminants Action Program (ACAP), the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), the Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response Working Group (EPPR), the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) Working Group, and the Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG).

One of the recent accomplishments of the Arctic Council is the Agreement on Enhancing International Arctic Scientific Cooperation, signed in Fairbanks, Alaska at the 2017 Ministerial meeting. The purpose of the Agreement is “to enhance cooperation in Scientific Activities in order to increase effectiveness and efficiency in the development of scientific knowledge about the Arctic”.

Be sure not to miss an upcoming webinar, organized jointly by the European Polar Board and APECS on “An introduction to the Arctic Council”, given by Timo Koivurova, Director of Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, on 2nd November – details will be available soon.

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The town of Longyearbyen, Svalbard. Norway is part of the Arctic Council!


There are several organizations focused on international Arctic and Antarctic research coordination and collaboration, advancing knowledge, and providing unbiased and timely advice to policymaking bodies on polar issues, based on the best available evidence.

The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) works internationally to initiate, develop and coordinate scientific research in the Antarctic. SCAR also provides objective and independent scientific advice to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings, as well as to other organizations, on issues of Antarctic science and conservation.

The International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) is a non-governmental, international scientific organization, with a mission of “encouraging and facilitating cooperation in all aspects of Arctic research, in all countries engaged in Arctic research and in all areas of the Arctic region”. IASC works to support international Arctic research, and provides objective and independent scientific advice on issues of science in the Arctic to support policy and decision making by various bodies and organizations.

In addition to global organizations, several organizations with a regional focus also work to promote, coordinate and advance polar research. These include the European Polar Board (EPB), the Asian Forum for Polar Sciences (AFoPS), and the Reunión de Administradores de Programas Antárticos Latinoamericanos (RAPAL).

Furthermore, many discipline-specific international polar organizations are active around the world, working to advance and coordinate polar research. And, of course, there is the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS).

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Stålbas research vessel in Svalbard, Norway. Photo credit: Derrick Midwinter.


Further to organizations focused predominantly on polar policymaking, or the coordination of Arctic and Antarctic research, there are several organizations responsible for the management and coordination of logistics and infrastructures for research in the polar regions. These include the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP) and the Forum of Arctic Research Operators (FARO). Both COMNAP and FARO work to coordinate polar infrastructures and logistics to support Arctic and Antarctic research.

TheInternational Network for Terrestrial Research and Monitoring in the Arctic (INTERACT) is a network of Arctic field research bases in northern Europe, Russia, the United States, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and Scotland, as well as stations in northern alpine locations. INTERACT, initially funded by the European Union’s Framework 7 Research and Innovation funding program, seeks to build capacity for research and monitoring in the Arctic. Researchers from around the world are able to access the INTERACT network of research stations through its Transnational Access program.

This is a brief overview of some of the main organizations that help connect the #PolarWorld through international policy!