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Ministry for Foreign Affairs

UNECE Regional Implementation Forum on Sustainable Development, Geneva 15 - 16 June 2004

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
- Regional Implementation Forum on Sustainable Development -

Geneva 15-16 January 2004

Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation
The contribution of the Arctic Council


I have asked for the floor from the seat of Iceland, to say a few words on behalf of the Chairman of Senior Arctic Officials, Ambassador Pálsson, regarding the contribution of the Arctic Council to the topic under discussion.

The Arctic Council is a forum of co-operation, mainly on sustainable development, among the five Nordic countries, Canada, the United States and Russia, as well as a number of indigenous peoples organizations that are recognized as permanent participants. Iceland holds the Chair of the Arctic Council during the period 2002-2004.

While it is recognized that the primary responsibility for implementing the Jo?burg commitments rests with the nations, increased emphasis on the regional level and stronger linkages between global, regional and national endeavors are a critical element of the new CSD, as we all know.

Currently, the Arctic Council is undertaking several projects concerning the living conditions of Arctic residents, which also have a bearing on human settlement. I would like to mention in particular the so-called Arctic Human Development Report, inspired in part by the human development reports of the United Nations Development Programme. This report, to be issued in the fall, is expected to become the first comprehensive assessment of living conditions in the circumpolar region. Through the Arctic Human Development Report, we hope to achieve better understanding of the social, economic and cultural aspects of sustainable development in the Arctic for the benefit of both policy makers and the people of the region.

A Survey of Living Conditions in the Arctic, the so-called SLICA project, is also being carried out under the auspices of the Arctic Council. Among other things, the project documents the similar health concerns of several indigenous populations in different parts of the Arctic region.

Another important project in this field is the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), carried out under the auspices of the Arctic Council in cooperation with the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC). Apart from wide ranging scientific analysis, the ACIA will examine social and economic impacts of climate variability and change and its consequences for peoples? lives, including health, resource use and infrastructure. The results of the assessment should be completed by the autumn of 2004.

Turning to water, a substantial portion of the world?s freshwater is found in the glaciers and ice caps of the Arctic region. Nearly ten percent of this reservoir is contained in the Greenland ice cap alone. Four major Arctic rivers drain large regions of the Russian Federation (the Yenesei, Ob, and Lena Rivers) and Canada (the Mackenzie River) and provide nearly 10 percent of all river discharge into all the oceans of the world.

With your permission I would like to mention some examples of the linkage between freshwater ecosystems in the Arctic and sustainable development in the region.

Sustainable energy production, for example, and harnessing of geothermal energy is an important aspect of freshwater utilisation, which can help alleviate poverty and raise general standards of living. Freshwater resources are also being used for eco-tourism, another example of sustainable use.

Freshwater ecosystems in the Arctic support an array of flora and fauna. The sustainable use of freshwater resources is a major feature of communities in the Arctic, whether the use be subsistence fishing, sport fishing or commercial fishing. As access to medical services is in many instances difficult, good water quality remains of the utmost importance to residents in the Arctic.

The relationship between freshwater and marine ecosystems is a close one, particularly as it relates to pollution. Improving the quality of freshwater and freshwater environments will profoundly improve the coastal and marine environments that so many people depend on directly for food, income and social and cultural identity.

The predicted warming in the Arctic will release water from the soil were it is typically griped in the permafrost. Climate variability and change will indeed affect the whole hydrological system. It affects glaciers, snow cover and vegetation and, in turn, these elements affect the climate change. This development could drastically affect the living conditions of the people in the Arctic and elsewhere and will influence many economic sectors, such as the energy sector. It is not too early, therefore, that we begin to prepare ourselves to respond with new strategies on different levels.

A better understanding of the effects of climate change and global water cycles in the Arctic is vital not only for the people of this region, but for the rest of the world as well.

As to sanitation issues, we all realize that water management and sanitation-related issues are closely related to human health. In turn, human health is critical to sustainable development.

Both the Arctic Human Development Report and the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, mentioned earlier, address the issue of human health in the Arctic. In addition, the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme focuses on health related aspects. It has, for example, established that the diet is the main form of intake for contaminants and has provided information about the levels of contaminants in people, in particular in pregnant women.

Environmental issues are at the core of the Arctic Council work. Many of the processes documented in the Arctic Council?s environmental reports have begun to work their effects through the lives and livelihood of the people of the region, affecting all aspect on our agenda here today, human settlement, water and sanitation.

The Arctic is increasingly being looked to as a bellwether for what may come about in other areas of the world in terms of both pollution and climate change. I have taken examples of programs through which the Arctic Council hopes, in the years ahead, to do its part in confronting and dealing with some of the major challenges that affect the people of the region.

A regional body like the Arctic Council is able to participate actively in the regional implementation of the Jo?burg Plan and I hope that as the CSD goes on its way to promote the plan that it will be able to take full advantage of the contribution of the Arctic Council.

Allow me finally to congratulate the UNECE on organizing this meeting and express our appreciation for being given this opportunity to contribute to the discussion.

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