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Geopolitical and economic interests in environmental governance: explaining observer state status in the Arctic Council


Which factors lead states to apply for observer status in the Arctic Council (AC)? What explains the acceptance of those applications? In 2013, the AC underwent its most significant change since its foundation in 1996, with its formalization through the creation of a secretariat, the confirmation of eight observers, and acceptance of other five states, including China, with the same status. This study explores geopolitical and economic interests of actors of regional environmental governance that impact both applications and their acceptance as observer states. Based on probit models and case studies, we identify that states that mostly increase their carbon-equivalent emissions through consumption and production are less likely to join the AC as observers and to be accepted as such. Models also yield statistically significant correlations between states that import a high amount of goods from China and the pursuit of observer status in the AC. Models that disregard the impact of Beijing on observership in the intergovernmental organization reveal that applicants tend to have higher international status than the average and tend to be accepted as observer states for increasing the AC’s prestige. Unsuccessful attempts of joining the AC as observers also suggest that concerns with the environment, science, and technology impact observership demand and supply. Yet, acceptance of observer states may also be contingent on geopolitical and economic considerations by member states of the AC.

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  1. For a full list of observers, see Arctic Council (2022).

  2. For a discussion of Turkey’s potential benefits from joining the treaty, see Çetin and Büyüksağnak (2021).


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The funding for language editing came from the Institute of Russian and Eurasian Studies (IRES), Faculty of Social Sciences, Uppsala University, Sweden. Research by Anastassia Obydenkova was supported by project CARSI (Caucasus and Central Asia Research on Social Innovation: Development Assistance, Innovation and Societal Transformation) ID 101086415 Horizon-MSCA-2023-SE-01.

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Each of the three co-authors participated equally in elaboration of all sections, and contributions are equal among the three authors. Specifically, in alphabetical order: N. Filimonova contributed more to the section “2.” A. Obydenkova has contributed more to the theory section “3,” section “5,” as well as the final text edition. V. G. Rodrigues Vieira has contributed more to the “3.1” and “4” sections, apart from the process of data collection and organization of the supplemental material. All three co-authors are equally contributed to the editing and working on the text of the manuscript and consider all their contributions as equal. We state equal co-authorship, and our surnames are listed alphabetically.

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Correspondence to Anastassia Obydenkova.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Filimonova, N., Obydenkova, A. & Rodrigues Vieira, V.G. Geopolitical and economic interests in environmental governance: explaining observer state status in the Arctic Council. Climatic Change 176, 50 (2023).

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