Environmental protection lies at the core of the Arctic Council – ever since its establishment. In the Council’s founding document, the Ottawa declaration, the eight Arctic States affirmed their commitment to protect the Arctic environment and healthy ecosystems, to maintain Arctic biodiversity, to conserve and enable a sustainable use of natural resources.
Finland remained true to this guiding principle and chose environmental protection as the first of four priorities for their Chairmanship program. During their two-year term, the Finns placed a special emphasis on conserving biodiversity, preventing pollution, as well as on measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
One could say rather successfully: The Arctic Council was selected as the recipient of the 2019 Global Award of International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA). The IAIA Awards Committee honored especially the Finnish Chairmanship’s emphasis on the implementation of the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, as well as its proposal for an Arctic specific environmental impact assessment tool.
The project “Good Practice Recommendations for Environmental Impact Assessment and Public Participation in the Arctic” (Arctic EIA) by the Council’s Sustainable Development Working Group, is one example of how the Council’s Working Groups have continuously furthered the knowledge on environmental issues. Other focus areas over the past two years have included:
- reducing the releases of persistent organic pollutants, such as mercury, into the Arctic environment (led by the Arctic Contaminants Action Program);
- the impact of acidifying waters on the Arctic marine ecosystem (led by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme);
- the pressures affecting Arctic freshwater systems (led by the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna);
- cooperation on marine oil pollution preparedness and response in the Arctic (led by Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response);
- the environmental impact of Arctic marine shipping (led by Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment).
Over the course of the Chairmanship, new pressing issues have emerged. Wildfires for example rose on the political agenda and gained public attention after a destructive wildfire season in 2018. Wildfires therefore have emerged as an issue that is addressed across different Arctic Council subsidiary bodies.
Finland also hosted two large events focusing on the Arctic environment during its Chairmanship: The Arctic Biodiversity Congress and the Arctic Environment Ministers’ meeting. It was the first time in five years that the environment ministers of the Arctic States convened to discuss environmental protection in the Arctic, sharing experiences, exchanging knowledge, and exploring common solutions.
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