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The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent makes its way through the ice in Baffin Bay in July 2008. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Arctic search and rescue and the environment will be among the topics that leaders from eight northern nations, including Canada, are set to discuss in Nuuk, Greenland, next week.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are among the high-level leaders who are expected to attend the Arctic Council's ministerial meeting next Thursday.

The Canadian government has yet to say who will represent Canada at the ministers' meeting. The most recent foreign affairs minister, Lawrence Cannon, lost his seat in Monday's federal election.

Representatives from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland will also be in Nuuk. Senior Arctic officials will meet before the ministers, starting on Monday.

Many items are on the Nuuk meeting agenda, including the signing of an Arctic search and rescue coordination treaty.

The treaty will require member nations to co-ordinate with each other in the event of a plane crash, cruise ship sinking, big oil spill or other major disaster in the Arctic.

Once signed, the treaty will become the first legally binding agreement to be reached by the Arctic Council's eight member countries.

Council's future at issue

The national ministers will also hold a roundtable discussion about the Arctic Council's future challenges, opportunities and priorities.

Member nations in the Arctic Council have been struggling with the question of how the council can be more relevant in a changing Arctic environment, said Martin Sommerkorn, an Arctic climate change advisor with World Wildlife Find International.

"They might be just overwhelmed by what they have to do and what will come up to them in the very near future, as the Arctic is becoming a more and more global place," Sommerkorn told CBC News.

The Inuit Circumpolar Council, one of six northern indigenous organizations that are involved in the Arctic Council, says it also wants the intergovernmental group to take a firm stance on climate change.

"In the future, we think that [the] Arctic Council in general will get a way stronger voice, especially on the question of climate change," said Aqqaluk Lynge, international chairman of the Inuit Circumpolar Council.

Arctic Council member nations must also decide whether they will set up permanent headquarters in the future.

Currently, the Arctic Council is chaired by a different country every two years. Sweden will take over from Greenland as the group's chair after next week's meeting concludes.

Inuit leaders form stance on development

While in Nuuk, Inuit leaders will present the Arctic Council with their united position on Arctic oil, gas and mining development.

Inuit leaders from around the circumpolar world, including Canada, have struggled to find common ground on the thorny issue of resource development.

Lynge said a unified accord on the issue is needed in the Arctic, in light of growing interest in oil, gas and mining development there.

"The Davis Strait between Baffin Island and Greenland [is] going to be an oil highway, so to say," he said.

As a result, Lynge said there will have to be more agreements between Canada and Greenland, "where we are sharing the same areas, waters, and eventually the same pollution, if it happens."

Under the accord that will be presented next week, Inuit leaders are expected to support development in the Arctic, but with caution and some restrictions geared at protecting the northern environment.

The Inuit Circumpolar Council will call for the establishment of an emergency fund to be used in case of accidents or oil spills, Lynge said.