Madrid, 16 June 2003
XXVI Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting
Draft statement on behalf of Ambassador Gunnar Pálsson
Chairman of Senior Arctic Officials
Allow me, on behalf of the Chair of Senior Arctic Officials, Ambassador Pálsson, to thank the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat for this opportunity to present to the Consultative Conference an overview of current activities within the Arctic Council.
Developments within the Arctic Council are in many ways relevant to the work carried out on the basis of the Antarctic Treaty, in particular as regards the protection of the environment and the earth's ecosystem. However, whereas the Antarctic is a special conservation area, the Arctic is home to about four million people making use of the region's rich natural resources for their livelihood and social and economic development.
The Arctic Council aims at sustainable development in the Arctic region and to that end, addresses environmental, social and economic issues. It involves national governments, indigenous peoples, regional authorities, scientific experts and civil society. It provides the circumpolar North with a voice in the international community at a time when a global dialogue on sustainable development is of high importance for the region, not least as regards the protection of the environment.
Significant monitoring and assessment of pollution in the Arctic is performed under the auspices of the Arctic Council. This work is important in identifying pollution risks and their impact on Arctic ecosystems and in assessing the effectiveness of international agreements on pollution control, such as the Stockholm Convention.
Over the past 10 years, one of the Arctic Council's Working Groups, the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), has conducted two major assessments of the pollution status of the Arctic, the second of which; Arctic Pollution 2002, was issued last October. The reports document the sources, levels and trends, as well as the effects of a wide range of contaminants, including, persistent organic pollutants (POPs), heavy metals and radionuclides. The main conclusions of these assessments are that:
"In comparison with most other areas of the world, the Arctic remains a clean environment. However, for some pollutants, combinations of different factors give rise to concern in certain ecosystems and for some human populations. These circumstances sometimes occur on a local scale, but in some cases may be regional or circumpolar in extent."
Most of the contaminants within the Arctic are derived from sources outside the region, in particular the industrialized areas of Europe and North America. It appears that the sources of Arctic contaminants are increasingly also found as far afield as Southeast Asia.
The Arctic Council devotes a great deal of attention to co-operation with international organisations. One example is the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), where the Arctic Council had a role in placing the problem of mercury pollution on the agenda. The Arctic Council has contributed to the development of the new European Union's Northern Dimension Action Plan, and has, among other things, encouraged the EU to work with the Council in an effort to combat long-range transboundary pollution. The Council also participates actively in the regional implementation of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.
The Arctic states have declared their readiness to cooperate to reduce pollution in the Arctic. As a direct follow-up of the AMAP monitoring and assessment work, the Action Plan to Eliminate Pollution of the Arctic (ACAP) was set up to address the sources identified by AMAP. The project involves several priority projects to reduce pollution in the Arctic, including projects on cleaner production and control of PCBs, obsolete pesticides and dioxins, all of which are priority pollutants under the Stockholm Convention. New chemicals are making their way into the Arctic food chain, such as brominated flame retardants. The Arctic Council Action Plan has recently begun to develop actions with regard to these contaminants.
The Arctic marine environment is of great importance to the States of the region and the world as a whole. It holds some of the most important seas for commercial fisheries in the world, it has unique socio-cultural aspects, economic potential and an integral role in climatic processes. Climatic and developmental pressures on the Arctic marine environment from shipping, dumping, offshore oil and gas development and land-based activities are increasing.
Responding to an international call for increased coordination, particularly at a regional level, the Arctic Council will continue to address the challenges of coastal and marine environments. Examples of ongoing activity in this regard are the Arctic Council Strategic Plan for the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment, currently under development, and the Regional Programme of Action to address urgent pollution problems in the Arctic marine environment stemming from land-based activities.
One of the Arctic Council Working Groups deals specifically with Arctic flora and fauna. Its work aimes at promoting the conservation of biodiversity and the sustainable use of living resources. Effective conservation of many circumpolar species and other natural resources requires close cooperation with non-arctic states. There is a need for enhanced monitoring of biodiversity at the circumpolar level, fully utilizing traditional knowledge, to detect the impacts of global change on biodiversity and to enable Arctic communities to effectively respond and adapt to those changes.
The Arctic Council recognizes the potential impact that the development of oil, gas, metals and minerals can have on local living standards in many Arctic regions. Therefore, the Council emphasizes the importance of responsible management of such resources, including emergency prevention, to promote environmental protection and the sustainable development of the Arctic indigenous and local communities.
The Arctic states have declared their commitment to improving human conditions in the Arctic and to building capacity to help the inhabitants adapt to new realities. The Council encourages among other things continued cooperation on health issues, including assessment of the relationship between pollution and health. It gives special attention to the children and youth of the Arctic with the aim of preparing young people to actively participate in the sustainable development of the region. Recently, the Council undertook to produce an Arctic Human Development Report (ADHR), a comprehensive assessment of human conditions in the circumpolar region, due to be completed in the autumn of 2004.
Climate variability and change is high on the Arctic Council's agenda. The Arctic States note with concern the ongoing warming of most of the Arctic and recognize that the impacts of global climate change can have major consequences in the Arctic.
The Arctic Council's project on the assessment of the consequences of climate variability and change, the so-called Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), will examine present status and possible future impacts of climate change on the 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 regionally and in a global context.
One of the major questions in this regard is whether warming of the climate can lead to large reductions in the ice cover of the Arctic Ocean. Climate models disagree on how fast the ice will shrink, some even predict that in 50 years the Arctic Ocean will be free of ice during summer time. If accurate, this would, of course, open up entirely new possibilities in terms of circumpolar transport and communications. According to some experts, the northeastern as well as the northwestern passages can be expected to become open for maritime traffic within 30 years.
Present and future climate change and the state of polar environments is likely to be the main subject of the Third International PolarYear, recently endorsed by the WMO on the initiative of the Russian Federation. Due to be held in 2007 - 2008, the IPY will be an excellent opportunity for all interested governments and organizations to contribute, in a cooperative effort, to a better understanding of hydrometeorological and other processes in the polar regions. This applies not least to the Arctic Council and the Consultative Conference of the Antarctic Treaty.
Whatever people are accustomed to think, when it comes to evaluating climate change in particular, the Arctic and the Antarctic may not be poles apart, after all.