Arctic Council Prioritizes Sustainable Development, Climate Action

Arctic ministers
Leona Aglukkaq, Canadian Minister for the Arctic Council, signs the Kiruna declaration. (Photo courtesy Arctic Council)


KIRUNA, Sweden, May 16, 2013 (ENS) – Ministers from the eight Arctic states and representatives of the Arctic Indigenous Peoples Wednesday adopted a shared vision statement for the future development of the region as a “zone of peace and stability.”

“The economic potential of the Arctic is enormous and its sustainable development is key to the region’s resilience and prosperity,” states the “Vision for the Arctic.”

“We are concerned with the growing effects of climate change, and the local and global impacts of large-scale melting of the Arctic snow, ice and permafrost. We will continue to take action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants, and support action that enables adaptation,” says the vision statement.

“This sends an important signal to the rest of the world,” said the Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt at the conclusion of Sweden’s two-year Arctic Council chairmanship.

Arctic ministers
Leona Aglukkaq, Canadian Minister for the Arctic Council, signs the Kiruna declaration. (Photo courtesy Arctic Council)

Canada now takes the helm. “Canada is honored to assume the Chairmanship of the Council,” said Minister Leona Aglukkaq, Conservative MP for the Arctic territory of Nunavut and Canada’s Minister of Health. “The theme for Canada’s Chairmanship is Development for the People of the North,” with sub-themes of sustainable Arctic communities, responsible resource extraction, and safe Arctic shipping.

During the Canadian Chairmanship, the Arctic Council program will include the establishment of a Circumpolar Business Forum to provide new opportunities for business to engage with the Council; continued work on oil pollution prevention; and action to address short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon and methane.

Arctic Council States signed a new, legally-binding Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic. The agreement provides a framework for cooperation in the event of an emergency to improve procedures for combating oil spills in the Arctic.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told his counterparts in Kiruna that the Obama Administration is making the urgent issue of climate change one of its top priorities.

“Just last week in one of the major newspapers in the United States, the New York Times, it was reported that the atmospheric levels of CO2 exceeded 400 parts per million for an entire 24-hour period for the first time in recorded history. That is the highest level of CO2 in three or four million years,” Kerry said. “Temperatures we know in the Arctic are increasing more than twice as fast as global averages, and they are endangering habitats and they are endangering ways of life.”

“Last September, the extent of sea ice covering the Arctic reached a record low, threatening marine mammal life and the indigenous and local communities that depend on them. As many of you – or all of you – know, warming also erodes the natural barrier of ice that shields Alaska’s coast from hostile waters, and that causes homes to fall into the sea, it causes pollution. And the thawing of the permafrost, which is increasingly releasing methane, which is 20 times more damaging than CO2 – that has led to the first Arctic wildfires in thousands of years.”

Lavrov, Kerry
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and U.S. secretary of State John Kerry in Kiruna, Sweden, May 15, 2013 (Photo courtesy U.S. State Dept.)

At the Kiruna meeting the ministers received three reports on the changing Arctic environment.

The Arctic Biodiversity Assessment produced by the Arctic Council’s Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna group presents the status and trends in Arctic biodiversity based on best available science informed by traditional ecological knowledge, and includes policy recommendations for Arctic biodiversity conservation.

The Arctic Ocean Review coordinated by the Arctic Council’s working group on Protection of the Marine Environment analyzes the global and regional instruments and measures that govern the Arctic marine environment, and provides policy recommendations for Arctic states to strengthen the conservation and sustainable use of the Arctic marine environment.

The Arctic Ocean Acidification assessment produced by the Arctic Council’s Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme working group is the first major scientific study of the impacts that acidification of the Arctic Ocean may have on Arctic marine ecosystems, and the northern communities and indigenous peoples who depend on them.

The Kiruna Declaration, which the ministers also signed at the meeting, expresses “concern that global emissions of greenhouse gases are resulting in rapid changes in the climate and physical environment of the Arctic with widespread effects for societies and ecosystems and repercussions around the world,” and reiterates “the urgent need for increased national and global actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change…”

The Kiruna Declaration confirms the commitment of all eight Arctic States to work together and with other countries under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change “to conclude a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force no later than 2015,” that will limit the emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

The Arctic ministers agreed to urge all Parties to the Convention “to continue to take urgent action to meet the long-term goal aimed at limiting the increase in global average temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels,” the level most scientists have said is essential to avert the worst consequences of climate change.

The ministers agreed to urge the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer to take action as soon as possible, complementary to the UNFCCC, to phase-down the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons, which contribute to the warming of the Arctic region.

They decided to establish a Task Force to develop arrangements on actions to achieve enhanced black carbon and methane emission reductions in the Arctic, and report at the next Ministerial meeting in 2015.

Reducing emissions of short-lived climate pollutants, particularly black carbon and methane, has been identified as a primary strategy to slow Arctic warming and melting. Black carbon is a component of fine particle pollution, or soot, that is emitted by diesel engines, agricultural fires and residential heating and industrial boilers.

In view of the fact that the Arctic is warming more than twice as quickly as other areas of the planet, environmental groups were disappointed that the Arctic Council did not adopt measures to address short-lived climate pollutants at the Kiruna meeting.

“While the agreement on oil spill preparedness is important and we are encouraged by the progress made on that front, there is no denying that the Arctic Council failed to act to slow Arctic warming and melting and prevent oil spills – the two most urgent items on their agenda. The Council must do better,” said Erika Rosenthal, an Earthjustice attorney who participated in the Task Force on Short-lived Climate Forcers. “We must work hard to implement the Task Force recommendations on black carbon and methane reduction in every Arctic state, and ensure that launching black carbon negotiations are at the top of the agenda when the U.S. takes over the Council chairmanship in 2015.”

The Arctic Council includes: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. Six international organizations representing Arctic Indigenous Peoples have permanent participant status.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.

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