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Ministry for Foreign Affairs

United Nations Open-ended Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea

New York, 2 June 2003

United Nations Open-ended Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea

Statement by H.E. Ambassador Gunnar Pálsson, Chair of Senior Arctic Officials

Thank you, Mr. Co-Chairman, for this opportunity to present to you the Arctic Council}s work on ocean issues. Allow me also to congratulate the Secretariat on its comprehensive report, which acknowledges, among other things, (in paragraph 182) the particular ecological vulnerbilities of the Polar regions.

The Arctic region, as you know, is predominantly a marine area. It is an area commonly defined by the Arctic Circle. As regards the marine environment, the Arctic boundary is less confining, however. The oceanographic limit of the region is the meeting point of the relatively warm, salty water from the Atlantic and the Pacific and the colder, less salty water of the Arctic Ocean. The latitude of this ocean boundary varies greatly and for that reason the sub-arctic marine environment is perhaps most appropriately circumscribed by the area of mixed Arctic and Atlantic or Pacific water.

While a practical or working definition of the Arctic region may be necessary, it is important to bear in mind that the Arctic is intimately connected to the rest of the world. Ocean water circulates to and from the Arctic Ocean, air masses move north and south and there is virtually no place on earth that is not connected to the Arctic through migratory animal species. Lately, the Arctic is also increasingly being seen as a global "indicator region" for climate change and long-range transboundary pollution.

One of the aims of the Arctic Council, a circumpolar high-level intergovernmental forum, is to ensure that appropriate attention be given to ocean issues. This feature of the Council's work is extremely important, not least because of the large numbers of people who depend on the marine environment for food and income, as well as for their social and cultural identity.

The Arctic marine environment is also of great importance to the world as a whole, because of its rich natural resources, unique socio-cultural aspects, economic potential and its integral role in climatic processes. There is mounting evidence that climatic and developmental pressures on the marine environment from shipping, dumping, offshore oil, gas development and land-based activities have been increasing in the Arctic.

It is for this reason, not least, that the two areas singled out for discussion in this year}s Consultative Process, hold considerable interest for the Arctic Council. As regards the first area, safety of navigation, I should point out that one of the Council}s Working Groups, dealing with Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response (EPPR), has conducted a detailed risk assessment of activities posing transboundary threats to the Arctic environment and concluded that the transportation and storage of oil carries risks for the Arctic environment. In order to improve prevention measures, the Group has developed a circumpolar map of resources at risk from oil spills in the Arctic, mainly in coastal and marine areas.

As regards the second area, protecting vulnerable marine ecosystems, significant monitoring and assessment of pollution in the Arctic is carried out under the auspices of the Arctic Council. A second Working Group, the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), monitors pollution risks and their impact on Arctic ecosystems. The Working Group has issued two major reports on Arctic Pollution, the second of which appeared in 2002. These assessments reveal some serious pollution risks in the region and also the close links of the Arctic with the rest of the world, as the region receives contaminants, including mercury, from sources far outside it. The information has, among other things, greatly assisted in negotiation of the POPs protocols to the LRTAP Convention (UN-ECE Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution).

A third Working Group, responsible for the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment, or PAME for short, provides regional coordination and cooperation to protect the vulnerable Arctic marine environment from both land- and sea-based activities through coordinated action programmes and guidelines complementing existing legal arrangements.

Globally, it has been estimated that 80% of marine pollution derives from land-based activities; this proportion is probably higher in the Arctic. The Arctic Council adopted the Regional Programme of Action for the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment from Land-based Activities in 1998 as a regionally non-binding action plan. The plan follows UNEP's Global Programme of Action (GPA) methodology and illustrates the efforts of the Arctic countries in implementing the GPA on a regional level. The implementation and further development of the RPA remains one of the Working Group's priorities and caters to the need to protect and restore the quality of the marine environment, including its biological resources and biodiversity.

Pollution prevention issues relating to offshore oil and gas and shipping activities are the primary sea-based activities addressed by the Arctic Council. Offshore Oil and Gas Guidelines have been developed, guidelines for addressing ship-generated waste are being developed and issues such as the potential effects of climate change on shipping activities will be among the issues addressed in a strategic plan for the protection of the Arctic marine environment, announced by the Arctic Council last October.

This plan is being developed through an open consultative process, involving all relevant stakeholders to ensure that the Arctic region has an integrated ocean position within the international oceans agenda. In this way, the Council hopes to make a significant contribution to the follow-up of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, in particular by encouraging coordination of efforts and the application of ecosystem approaches for the sustainable development of the oceans. As part of the strategic planning process, Iceland and Canada, the two countries leading the project, will co-host an Arctic Seas Conference in October 2003 in Reykjavik.

Finally, I would like to mention an ongoing project, the so-called Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), due to be completed by the autumn of next year. Emerging evidence of significant warming of most of the Arctic is of growing concern and raises questions, among other things, about the possible effects on the earth}s hydrological system, rising sea levels and possible changes in the distribution of fish stocks. As the Secretary-General points out in his report (in paragraph 196), experiments reveal that marine animals in some of the coldest parts of the world are highly sensitive to increases in ambient temperature. Therefore, there can be little doubt that the Arctic marine ecosystem is particularly vulnerable to global climate change.

By focusing attention on some of the foremost challenges of the Arctic oceans, the Arctic Council responds to an international call for increased coordination, particularly at a regional level, and a growing trend towards integrated approaches, including the ecosystem approach, in addressing the challenges of the vulnerable coastal and marine environments of the Arctic region.


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