Polar Partnership Promotes Sustainable Development in Arctic
2 April, New York It's a vast, cold region that might appear peripheral
to most people who live in more moderate climates, but the residents of the
Arctic have mobilized to make sure the world knows about the threats to
sustainable development in their region.
For the last ten years, the countries that border the Arctic Circle, including
Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Russia, the United States and
Canada, have joined forces to form the Arctic Council, which is dedicated to
addressing environmental and social issues affecting the region and its people.
Representatives of governments and indigenous groups participate on an equal
footing in the work of the Council.
At the world's periphery, the region is not the most highly visible, but the
Council hopes that the World Summit on Sustainable Development to take place in
Johannesburg this August will provide an opportunity to demonstrate that a
partnership between different governments and peoples can help promote
"This is a new phenomenon," said Peter Stenlund, Chairman of the
Arctic Council. "This is a region that has been able to act together and
perform together at the international level." In addition, he said, it was
important to push for action at the Summit on the problems that have an impact
on the Arctic.
Although remote, the Arctic suffers from the effects of pollution from distant
sources. A study prepared by the Council five years ago revealed high levels of
persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals in the region, which present a
health threat to local inhabitants. A short food chain means that toxic levels
are magnified, which poses risks to people living on traditional food sources.
According to Stenlund, the environmental report was very effective in
influencing the negotiations for the Stockholm treaty to ban or regulate
persistent organic pollutants. He said the Council was very active in following
the signing, ratification, and implementation of the treaty.
Climate change has emerged as a major concern in the region, Stenlund said, and
the Council has commissioned a new study to explore how the Arctic has been
affected by the phenomenon. Stenlund cited anecdotal reports that the
permafrost is softening, affecting buildings and roads, and that the ice cover
is shrinking in places. Indigenous people also report changes in wildlife
behaviour, which can affect the livelihoods of many residents.
Natural resource utilization, mining and military operations in the Arctic have
expanded, Stenlund noted. While the Council, as a rule, does not tell countries
what they may or may not do, and does not take a position on activities such as
oil drilling, Stenlund said the Council does promote the precautionary
principle and urges the use of environmental and social impact assessments to
assure that all activities benefit local people while providing the maximum
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Department of Economic and
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24 August 2006