The Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy

The Canadian Delegation to the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy
Ministerial Meeting in Nuuk Greenland. September 1993.

On June 14, 1991, following nearly two years of meetings between civil servants, political representatives of the eight arctic countries signed a declaration on the protection of the arctic environment, and agreed upon a 45-page Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS). The Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), Nordic Sami Council, and USSR Association of Small Peoples of the North assisted in preparing the strategy and were accorded observer status to this circumpolar initiative.

The AEPS deals with four themes: monitoring and assessment of contaminants, protection of the marine environment, emergency preparedness and response, and conservation of flora and fauna. The first theme—contaminants in the Arctic— is a major focus of attention. As such, an Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) has been established under the aegis of the AEPS. AMAP is looking at six pollution issues identified in the strategy: persistent organic contaminants, oil, heavy metals, noise, radioactivity, and acidification. Informal working groups have been put in place to deal with the other three themes.

The AEPS is important. It represents a collective, clrcumpolar approach toward environmental issues, many of which do not respect political boundaries. AMAP and the working groups bring together civil servants and scientists to exchange information, to discuss issues, and to define the nature and severity of problems. Nevertheless, the AEPS has yet to produce plans that deal with issues and solve problems. In this regard, the AEPS is only a prelude to action, but it is action that we need. The missing ingredients are ongoing political attention and direction and financial commitment. It remains to be seen whether the AEPS will generate these.

In September 1993, environment ministers representing the eight arctic nations convened in Nuuk, Greenland, to assess the first two years of the AEPS, and to define future priorities. Their discussions concentrated on the issue of potential radionuclide pollution as a result of offshore dumping by Russia. This focus was entirely appropriate in light of recent revelations that at least 17 nuclear reactors have been dumped in the Arctic Ocean by the Russians. Nevertheless, all nations await the results of additional research into the corrosion rates of the containment barriers in which these reactors were encased and measurements of radionuclides being released into the environment.

At the 1993 meeting, the ministers endorsed a broadening of the AEPS to deal with sustainable development. They established a task force on sustainable development, for which Canada agreed to take the lead in developing the terms of reference and workplan. This initiative could be important, for it might lead to the introduction in the circumpolar world of new and perhaps standardized legal and policy instruments to ensure that future development is sustainable. Certainly, this change brings the AEPS into line with the advocacy of northern aboriginal peoples and most environmental and publicinterest organizations that deal with the Arctic. It may be that this broadening of focus to encompass economic and social development will assist those who administer the AEPS to garner the political attention needed to solve purely environmental problems.

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