The inaugural Arctic Ocean Conference was held in Ilulissat (Greenland) on 27-29 May 2008. Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States discussed key issues relating to the Arctic Ocean. The meeting was significant because of its plans for environmental regulation, maritime security, mineral exploration, polar oil oversight, and transportation. Before the conclusion of the conference, the attendees announced the Ilulissat Declaration.
The conference was the first ever held at the ministerial level that included the five regional powers. It came at the invitation of Per Stig Møller, Denmark's Foreign Minister, and Hans Enoksen, Greenlands Premier in 2007 after several territorial disputes in the Arctic. States Møller, "We must continue to fulfill our obligations in the Arctic area until the UN decides who will have the right to the sea and the resources in the region. We must agree on the rules and what to do if climate changes make more shipping possible." "We need to send a common political signal to both our own populations and the rest of the world that the five coastal states will address the opportunities and challenges in a responsible manner."
Ilulissat's melting glacier was an appropriate backdrop for the landmark conference.
The key ministry level attendees were:
The inclusion of some members of the Arctic Council while excluding others (indigenous peoples, Finland, Iceland, and Sweden) from the conference caused controversy.
Defending Denmark's decision to exclude certain council members, Thomas Winkler, head of Denmark's International Law Department stated, "This meeting in Ilulissat is not a competition to the Arctic Council. The issues that we're going to discuss will be issues that is [sic] the responsibility of the five coastal states of the Arctic Ocean."
The reaction by Aqqaluk Lynge, a Greenlandic politician and former president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, was concerned that indigenous peoples of the Arctic are being "marginalized". "Inuit have their own definition of sovereignty."
- Arctic Counsel (26 May 2008). "Conference on the Arctic Ocean: The Danish Foreign Minister wants unity about the future of the Arctic Ocean. Outrageous attempts to make demands on the Arctic Ocean region should be a thing of the past". Article Council. Archived from the original on 20 August 2008. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
- Boswell, Randy (28 May 2008). "Danes remind Canada Hans Island is part of Greenland, Kingdom of Denmark on eve of meeting". canada.com. Archived from the original on 29 May 2008. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
- Royal Embassy of the Kingdom of Denmark, Ottawa (28 May 2008). "THE ILULISSAT DECLARATION, ARCTIC OCEAN CONFERENCE". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
- Lawrence, Daina (4 June 2008). "Harper government under fire". princegeorgecitizen.com. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
- Norden. "Arctic Summit in Greenland: Denmark, Greenland, Norway, Russia, Canada and the USA are holding a summit in Ilulissat, Greenland at the moment to discuss how best to resolve disagreements about rights to oil, etc. until the UN clarifies who actually owns what in the enormous Arctic Region. A UN pronouncement is not expected until 2020". norden.org. Archived from the original on 13 April 2012. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
- Office of the Spokesman (21 May 2008). "United States Participation in Arctic Ocean Conference". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
- Rigzone (27 May 2008). "Kingdom of Denmark to Hold Arctic Ocean Conference for Foreign Governments". rigzone.com. Archived from the original on 7 June 2011. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
- Sikunews (21 May 2008). "Finland, Sweden, Iceland left out: The Kingdom of Denmark stands by its decision to invite only five of the eight Arctic nations to an international meeting next week in Ilulissat, Greenland". sikunews.com. Archived from the original on 13 April 2012. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
- Somby, Liv Inger (29 May 2008). "GREENLAND: Arctic Powers Duel for Energy Wealth". galdu.org. Archived from the original on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
- "Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov Attends the Arctic Ocean Conference, Ilulissat" (Press release). Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. 28 May 2008. Archived from the original on 14 June 2011. Retrieved 6 June 2008.