United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Environment Outlook-1 - The Web version

Chapter 3: Policy Responses and Directions

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Polar Regions

The Arctic

International Co-operation

The environmental concerns of the Arctic tend to be common and shared by all Arctic countries. While individual nations have their own programmes for their particular parts of the Arctic, the region is characterized, like the Antarctic, by international co-operative policy and action.

The most extensive international Arctic co-operative programme is the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS) adopted by the eight Arctic countries-Russia, the United States (Alaska), Canada, Greenland/Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland-in Rovaniemi in 1991 (also referred to as the Rovaniemi Process). A number of other countries and international organizations have observer status in the AEPS. The objectives of the AEPS are to protect the Arctic ecosystems; to provide for the protection, enhancement, and restoration of natural resources; to recognize the traditional and cultural needs, values, and practices of the indigenous peoples; to review regularly the state of the Arctic environment; and to identify, reduce, and, as a final goal, eliminate pollution.

    The AEPS has established five working groups:

  • Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), focusing on contaminants and their effects in the Arctic environment;

  • Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME), to assess the need for further actions or legal instruments to prevent pollution of the Arctic marine environment;

  • Emergency, Prevention, Preparedness and Response (EPPR), addressing accidental pollution and emergencies;

  • Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), to facilitate initiatives to conserve the diversity and habitats of Arctic flora and fauna; and

  • Sustainable Development and Utilization (SDU), with particular reference to the use of natural resources (EEA 1996).
At the Third AEPS Ministerial meeting, in March 1996, held in Inuvik, Canada, the eight countries agreed to a set of work priorities for the Arctic and to the establishment of an Arctic Council with the involvement of Arctic indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants. The Council is designed to promote co-operation and co-ordination on particular issues of sustainable development and environmental protection; to co-ordinate programmes established under the AEPS; and to encourage research. Canada currently has the lead on the Arctic Council, which was established in September 1996 (Canadian Dept. of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, personal communication, 1996; WWF, 1996).

Subregional co-operation on Arctic issues is also ongoing, mainly in Europe. The Euro-Arctic Barents Region has launched an initiative to develop industry, trade, and local co-operation in the northern regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and western Russia. The initiative includes efforts to deal with industry and nuclear waste in north-western Russia, and an environmental action plan was adopted in 1994 as part of the larger programme.

The Arctic environmental policies currently in place (and the activities to implement these policies) focus on environmental protection. International agreements are a driving force for both. A set of progressive and coherent measures exist to protect the marine environment. Important global conventions for Arctic marine pollution include the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Waste and other Matter (London, 1972) and the MARPOL 73/78 International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (London, 1973, plus the 1978 Protocol).

Two further agreements relate specifically to the Atlantic and Arctic oceans north of latitude 36°N- the Oslo (1972) Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping from Ship and Aircraft, and the Paris (1974) Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Land-Based Sources. These have now been negotiated into a single legal instrument, known as the 1992 OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, which will replace the other two as soon as it comes into force (Norwegian Ministry of Environment, 1993). The harvesting of fish and marine mammals is addressed by a further set of conventions, some global and others specific to northern oceans.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe's Convention on Long-Range Trans-boundary Air Pollution (Geneva, 1979) is considered to be an appropriate mechanism for addressing the transfer of airborne contaminants to the Arctic. Steps are under way to establish further protocols under this convention to address heavy metals and discharges of persistent organic pollutants (AMAP, 1996), both of which are a major concern in the Arctic. A number of existing international agreements and programmes concerning nuclear safety (EEA, 1996) should help to minimize radioactive pollution in the Arctic.

A new, relevant international initiative, the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities, was adopted by Governments in November 1995 in Washington, D.C. (UNEP, 1995). One hundred and nine countries were represented at the meeting, including the eight Arctic countries.

During the negotiations of the Global Programme of Action, the need to address persistent organic pollutants, which are contaminating all oceans including those in the Arctic, was specifically recognized. The Secretariat of the Programme is to promote and facilitate its implementation at the national, subregional, regional, and global levels through, in particular, a revitalization of the Regional Seas Programmes.

Arctic wildlife and habitats will benefit from the global conventions that focus on biodiversity, migratory species, endangered species, and wetlands. In addition, the Arctic is covered by some regional agreements, such as the Berne 1979 Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats. Polar bear hunting is limited to sustainable levels by the Oslo 1973 Agreement on Conservation of Polar Bears, though the Convention has been less useful in protecting their habitats (EEA, 1996).

As mentioned in Chapter 2, all countries in the region have established protected areas. In 1995, a total of 285 such areas covered a little over 14 per cent of the Arctic. About half of this total area is located in the Northeast Greenland National Park (972,000 square kilometers).

The current set of protected areas is considered inadequate to maintain the biodiversity of the region. CAFF has recently prepared a strategy and action plan for developing an adequate and well-managed Circumpolar Protected Area Network incorporating the current areas. The network, which would involve local and indigenous peoples and their needs, concerns, and knowledge, would aim to provide relatively strict protection to at least 12 per cent of each Arctic ecozone (CAFF, 1996).

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