St. Petersburg, 24-25 April, 2003
The Northern Dimension Environmental Co-operation in the Adjacent Areas
Seminar of the Nordic Council of Ministers
Let me start out by thanking the Nordic Council of Ministers for this opportunity to introduce the Arctic Council to this forum. The theme of this seminar highlights the important links that exist between the Nordic Council of Ministers, the European Commission and the Arctic Council as regards environmental co-operation. Allow me also to take this opportunity to thank the Nordic Council of Ministers for its active interest in and support for the work of the Arctic Council.
The Arctic Council is a distinctive form of co-operation between governments and indigenous peoples in the Arctic region. Several organizations representing indigenous peoples are recognized as Permanent Participants and contribute to the Council's work with active participation and full consultation. Non-Arctic states, inter-governmental and inter-parliamentary organizations, as well as non-governmental organizations, are involved in the Arctic Council as observers. Among them, we are privileged to have the Nordic Council of Ministers participating regularly in Arctic Council meetings.
The overarching aim of the Arctic Council is to promote sustainable development in the Arctic region by addressing all its pillars, i.e. the environmental, the social and the economic. The environmental science work and policy guidance of the Arctic Council is carried out in several expert working groups. These focus on such issues as assessing, monitoring and preventing pollution in the Arctic, including measures to protect the oceans from pollution, biodiversity conservation and sustainable use, assessing the impact of climate change in the Arctic region and possible responses, as well as responses to environmental disasters.
At the same time, the Arctic Council is giving greater focus and direction to its work on human development. It is increasingly concerned about the living conditions of Arctic residents and has recently launched a comprehensive study, the Arctic Human Development Report, of that subject.
Those general objectives I have described also inform the efforts of the Nordic Council of Ministers, in the adjacent areas. I therefore welcome this opportunity to share with you the following information on various Arctic Council activities.
Over the past 10 years, one of the Arctic Council Working Groups, the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, has conducted two major assessments of the pollution status of the Arctic, documenting the sources, levels and trends as well the effects of a wide range of contaminants. On this basis, greater efforts have been made to address pollution sources with the aim of limiting and reducing emissions of pollutants into the environment. To this end the Arctic Council established the Action Plan to eliminate pollution in the Arctic, or ACAP.
Several priority projects have been initiated with the aim of reducing pollution in the Arctic, many of which are good examples of action in implementing international pollution control agreements, including the Stockholm Convention and the Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP). With your permission, I would like to mention some of these activities, which also have particular relevance to the adjacent areas, not least the Russian Federation.
- A multilateral co-operative project is in progress for phase-out of PCB use, and management of PCB contaminated wastes in the Russian Federation:
- A project is ongoing on the elimination of emissions of dioxins and furans in the Russian Federation, with focus on the Arctic and northern regions impacting the Arctic.
- The United States leads a project aimed at the safe disposal of the stockpiles of obsolete pesticides in prioritised Arctic regions in Russia.
- A project has been launched to reduce atmospheric mercury releases from Arctic states.
- The Russian Federation co-ordinates a project concerning the implementation of the cleaner production, eco-efficiency and environmental management systems in the Norilsk Mining and metallurgical company in the city of Norilsk in Russia.
The Arctic Council and its relevant working groups also have an active communication policy regarding contaminants in the region. Fact sheets have been prepared on POPs, heavy metals and radioactivity and are available in English, Russian and Saami language.
Apart from specific projects, the Arctic Council Ministerial declaration from Inari avows to continue civilian co-operation with Russia to enhance the safety of nuclear power installations and nuclear waste.
Concrete actions taken by the Arctic Council to eliminate pollution include a supporting role of the Arctic Council's Working Group on the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) to the Russian National Programme of Action to protect the Arctic marine environment from land-based activities.
One of the largest projects the Arctic Council is currently engaged in is the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), to be completed next year. The ACIA will examine present status and possible future impacts of climate change on the Arctic environment and its living resources, on human health, and social and economic activities, as well as possible adaptations and responses. The assessment will include policy recommendations that will address the need for mechanisms to deal with climate change in a global context, as well as recommendations aimed at national governments and regional authorities.
The above projects are but a few of the Arctic Council ongoing activities. For a more comprehensive overview, I refer to the document presented by the Arctic Council to the European Commission in connection with the development of the Northern Dimension Action Plan 2004-2006, circulated as part of the documents of this seminar.
The Arctic Council is in favor of closer co-operation with the European Commission and has sought to contribute to the development of the new Northern Dimension Action Plan. The overview of Arctic Council priorities and activities presented to the European Commission in connection with that action plan bears witness to our commitment in this regards and should help us identify areas of mutual interest.
In the Luxemburg guidelines for the new Action Plan it is stated that adequate responses should be given to problems and challenges of the northernmost regions of the Northern Dimension area, particularly of the Arctic. The variety and richness of cooperation throughout the Northern Dimension and the importance of building on the division of labor and coordination among the existing bodies is also emphasized.
Environmental issues are of great importance to all regional actors in the North, and so is the general well being of the inhabitants of the region. As the Nordic Council of Minister moves from unilateral support towards co-financing and joint efforts as regards its activities in the adjacent areas, we all stand to benefit from a discussion among ourselves and with the European Commission on ways to maximize the mutual advantage of working together on environmental issues in the North and we certainly look forward to seeing the first draft of the new Northern Dimension Action Plan in May or June.
Finally, I would like to thank the Nordic Council of Ministers for giving us this opportunity to exchange views and take a closer look at the Northern Dimension environmental co-operation in the adjacent areas.