Ambassador Peter Stenlund: Arctic Council as a Partnership for Sustainable Development

Northern Dimension Technological Challenges for Sustainable Development in the Arctic The Kajaani Forum June 17 – 18, 2002

Mr Peter Stenlund, Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials, Arctic Council:

The Arctic Council is the intergovernmental regional forum established by the Arctic states, that is to say the countries with an outreach above the Arctic Circle; Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Russian Federation and the United States. The Arctic Council is a unique forum for co-operation between national governments and indigenous peoples in the Arctic. Traditional knowledge of the indigenous people, and science and research contribute strongly to the understanding of the circumpolar Arctic.

The Arctic Council is a regional partnership for sustainable development. The Arctic Council is focusing on circumpolar wide issues. Regional bodies, such as the Nordic Council of Ministers and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council contribute to sustainable development in their specific Arctic sub-regions.

The goal of the Arctic Council’s Sustainable Development Program is to propose and adopt steps to be taken by the Arctic States to advance sustainable development in the Arctic, including opportunities to protect and enhance the environment and the economies, culture and health of indigenous communities and of other inhabitants of the Arctic.

The Arctic Council Ministerial in Barrow, Alaska, in October 2000, agreed upon a strategic framework document on sustainable development emphasizing that the needs of the present must be met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Economic, social and cultural development are, along with environmental protection, interdependent and mutually reinforcing aspects of Sustainable Development. Capacity Building is a necessary element for achievement of Sustainable Development.

With this foundation for further cooperation in place, the Arctic Council Working Group on Sustainable Development is now working hard on developing the economic, social and cultural aspects of sustainable development, in addition to the environmental activities of other Working Groups. Themes such as public health, telemedicine, distance learning, the future of children and youth, the role of women, eco-tourism, sustainable management of timberline forests, sustainable reindeer husbandry as well as infrastructure and telecommunications development are all linked to efforts aimed at enhancing quality of life and stemming migration from Arctic regions. Under consideration is an initative to prepare a comprehensive Arctive Human Development Report.

Mr Chairman,

In his key note speech yesterday Prime Minister Lipponen noted the activities of the Arctic Council in relation to the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development in August. In Rio ten years ago no attention was given to the Polar regions. As a result of climate change and long-range transport of certain chemicals, the circumpolar Arctic has emerged since the 1992 Earth Summit as an “indicator” region of global environmental health. The Arctic Council has therefore informed about Arctic concerns during the preparatory phase and will follow up these activities in Johannesburg in coopeeration with indigenous organisations and the Northern Forum, which represents administrations of Northern sub-regions.

Many themes under discussion in Johannesburg are highly relevant in the Arctic. Promoting health through Sustainable Development is high on the Arctic Agenda. Economic circumstances, lifestyle, exposure to severe cold and contaminants, dietary changes and geographic and political isolation pose challenges to public health in the Arctic. Indigenous peoples, with their continuing ties to the land and traditional foods and often marginalized status are often the most affected.

Poverty Eradication and Sustainable Livelihoods is urgent to indigenous peoples worldwide. In some parts of the Arctic, poverty and lack of basic health care services have led to an alarmingly low life expectancy among indigenous peoples.

In some parts of the Arctic, residents, who continue to consume traditional foods, have been exposed to high levels of environmental contaminants. Persistent contaminants, particularly certain organics and mercury, are carried to the Arctic via long-range transport in air and water and accumulate and biomagnify in some animals that are used as traditional foods. The Arctic ecosystem, along with its human population is increasingly exposed to ultraviolet radiation. The Arctic serves as a basin for global pollution transported via mainly atmospheric and riverine pathways and by sea currents from sources located far from the region.

The global Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants is a major step forward for the Arctic. Early entry into force of the Convention would be warmly welcomed in the Arctic. All Governments of the eight Arctic States have by the time of this meeting signed the convention. Canada and Sweden have already ratified it and several other Arctic states, including Finland, are working hard on ratification before the Johannesburg World Summit.

The findings of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) in its report on pollution in the Arctic in 1998, contributed to the scientific knowledge base of the Stockholm Convention. It illustrated convincingly the need for an effective global agreement on POPs and certain other hazardous substances.

As a follow-up to the 1998 report the Arctic Council has launched an Action Plan to eliminate pollution of the Arctic, with focus on cooperation with the Russian Federation. The recent signature by Russia of the Stockholm Convention will facilitate the further implementation of the Action Plan, in cooperation with GEF, UNEP-Chemicals and other concerned partners.

The Action Plan includes projects on the phase-out of PCB use and management of PCB-contaminated wastes, on evaluation of dioxins and furans as well as on environmentally sound management of stocks of obsolete pesticides in the Russian Federation. These projects may facilitate the preparation in Russia of a national implementation plan for the Stockholm Convention. The Russian National Plan of Action for Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment, under UNEP’s Global Plan of Action framework, also has potential to contribute to the implementation of the Stockholm Convention.

AMAP has continued monitoring and assessing the Arctic environment. The 2002 State of the Arctic Environment Report will be released and presented to the Inari Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council in October this year. The Assessment deals with Persistent Organic Pollutants, Heavy Metals and Radioactivity. A separate report will deal with the adverse effects on health due to exposure to contaminants in traditional food. A very interesting assessment is dealing with the influence of climate variability and change on contaminants’ pathways.

The Johannesburg theme “Access to Energy and Energy Efficiency” is closely related to sustainable use of natural resources in the Arctic. Global market demands and technological progress offer new opportunities for expanded utilization of these rich resources, such as oil and gas, metals and minerals. If properly managed, these opportunities can bolster sustainable growth and well-being in the region. Without precautionary measures, however, the traditional livelihood of indigenous and other local people, as well as the existence of vast areas of pristine nature, may be in danger. In addition, the Arctic region has large renewable energy potentials, such as hydro, geothermal and wind energy.

Arctic states should assess the environmental, social and economic impacts of undertakings to develop the use of natural resources in the Arctic portions of their territory, taking into account the latest research on the specific circumstances of the Arctic. Alignment of Environmental Impact Assessment procedures could be beneficial in the Arctic, taking into consideration possible transborder impacts of production and transportation of, especially, hydrocarbons.

Arctic circumpolar co-operation contributes to many goals included in the Johannesburg theme Sustainable Management of Ecosystems and Biodiversity. The Arctic Council has developed a Regional Plan of Action under the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of Marine Environment from Land-based activities. The recently finalized Arctic Council circumpolar overview report on biodiversity draws attention to various threats caused by human beings to nature and wildlife in the Arctic. Some of these damaging impacts stem from local activities, such as disturbance, loss and fragmentation of habitats resulting from oil, gas and hydropower development, road building and other infrastructure projects, tourism, unsustainable management of natural resources as well as overexploitation of living resources. Other impacts arise from global problems such as climate change and long-range pollution. Work is underway to define conservation priorities in the Arctic. The Arctic Council Ministers will decide on recommendations on biodiversity conservation on the basis of the status report at the Inari Ministerial meeting in October.

Climate change is taking place with strong, variable and largely unpredictable effects on nature and communities in the Arctic. Effects on the ice cover, sea currents and permafrost are expected to have global impacts. Thawing permafrost poses dangers to infrastructure and industries in many parts of the Arctic. Actions aimed at decelerating human contributions to climate change may help Arctic residents better adjust to coming alterations. The Arctic Council has launched an ambitious project to assess the environmental, social and economic consequences of climate variability and change and the effects of increased UV and UVB radiation in the Arctic. The project will pay special attention to the impacts of climate change on indigenous peoples. Much attention has been given to this project in the preparations for the Johannesburg Summit.

Mr Chairman,

The World Summit has a huge and difficult challenge in defining a stronger and more coherent system of international governance for sustainable development. Voluntary regional and sub-regional cooperation is an important element in a System of International Governance for Sustainable Development, as has been emphasized also by indigenous peoples. Through recognizing the significance of sub-regional cooperation, various “coalitions of the willing”, such as the Arctic Council, the World Summit should encourage cooperative processes, which could contribute considerably to transforming the outcome of the World Summit to practical actions.

Sustainable development in the Arctic circumpolar region is globally important, due to its rich natural resources and its climatological impact, regardless of its remoteness and sparse population. Reciprocally, international developments have a huge impact on the Arctic. The Arctic as well as other Polar areas deserve recognition in Johannesburg and in the Rio-process as it unfolds.

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