While the Arctic has long been a landscape for international cooperation, this cooperation became substantial only after the end of the Cold War in the 1990s. Founded in 1996 with the signing of the Ottawa Declaration, the Arctic Council is one of the most prominent examples of international structures operating in the Arctic. There are also a wide range of Arctic forums dedicated to the pursuit of specific goals.
Despite their individual needs and strategic goals, Arctic countries recognise that Arctic phenomena are transnational. It is for this reason that they have striven for consensus and prioritised finding mutually beneficial solutions for the Arctic region through a commitment to dialogue and collaborative research and development over the past three decades.
Forums focused on mitigating Arctic-specific challenges include:
- An intergovernmental forum on sustainable development, the environment, the well-being of Arctic inhabitants, the Arctic Council offers a framework for cooperation between its member states (the eight Arctic countries, namely Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States of America) and Permanent Participants (organisations representing Arctic Indigenous communities), decisions being made on the basis of their consensus. The Council also has Observers and a chairmanship that rotates every two years amongst the member states. The Council does not confer on questions of security.
- The Arctic Economic Council (AEC) is an independent organisation and advisory council that facilitates responsible economic development by sharing the best business practices and technological solutions for the circumpolar region. Comprised of more than 30 companies and organisations with business interests in the Arctic, the AEC was established by the Arctic Council in 2014 during Canada’s chairmanship (2013–2015). The AEC includes three business representatives from each Arctic state (whether SMEs or large multinational corporations, such as mining and shipping firms) and three representatives from each Arctic Council Permanent Participant (i.e. organisations representing indigenous peoples, such as reindeer herding associations and indigenous economic development corporations). The AEC also has a number of non-Arctic members, as well as working groups, of which there are currently five that cover 1) maritime transportation, 2) investment and infrastructure, 3) responsible resource development, 4) the blue economy, and 5) connectivity.
- The Barents Euro-Arctic Council facilitates cooperation between 13 northern regions across Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Russia in various domains, including transport, economic development, culture, and programmes to support youth and indigenous peoples.
- The European Union’s Northern Dimension programme facilitates cooperation in sustainable economic and infrastructural development, environmental protection, and social and cultural programmes between Iceland, Norway, and Russia in the Baltic Sea, the Barents region, and northwest Russia.
- The Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic region is a conference for parliamentarians representing the eight Arctic Council members and the European Parliament that takes place every two years. As an official Observer, the Conference promotes the work of the Arctic Council in domains such as shipping, education, research, human development, and climate change.
- Nordic Atlantic Cooperation (NORA) is an intergovernmental organisation operating under the auspices of the Nordic Council of Ministers. NORA facilitates cooperation in the North Atlantic region (which includes the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Iceland, and Coastal Norway) in sustainable economic development by encouraging collaboration between business and R&D.
- The Nordic Council of Ministers comprises 10 individual councils of ministers, each responsible for specific policy areas. The Council has a one-year rotating presidency between the five Nordic countries.
- The Northern Dimension is a joint policy between the European Union, Iceland, Norway, and Russia that provides a framework to promote dialogue and cooperation in sustainable development, economic integration, and competitiveness in Northern Europe.
- The Northern Forum is a non-profit, international organisation representing regional governments from the eight Arctic countries to promote dialogue on political, environmental, and economic issues.
- The West Nordic Council is a joint parliamentary organisation that facilitates cooperation between the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Iceland, with six representatives from each country’s parliaments for a total of 18 members.
- The "Arctic 5" is an unofficial association of five coastal Arctic states – Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the United States – that meet to discuss shipping, the management of fisheries, and continental shelf claims.
Examples of cooperation in research include:
- The International Polar Year. This event has been held four times since its debut in the late 19th century, most recently in 2007-2009.
- The International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) is an umbrella organisation for scientific cooperation in the Arctic. It brings together researchers from countries across the world from a wide range of specialties.
- The University of the Arctic is a network for universities and research institutes across the Arctic and beyond it, facilitating everything from student exchanges to joint research projects.
- The Forum of Arctic Research Operators (FARO) was created to facilitate logistical and operational support for scientific research in the Arctic.