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EPPR: Understanding Risk to the Arctic Environment

19 November 2013
The Arctic is changing rapidly. As it does, it may offer more access to new visitors and new residents arriving from the South. That could mean cruise vessels underway off the coast of Greenland, shipping vessels carrying fuel oil along with their cargoes, or invasive species brought northward as uninvited guests aboard ships. The Arctic Council is working to develop a comprehensive picture of such risks to the Arctic marine environment.

The Arctic is changing rapidly. As it does, it may offer more access to new visitors and new residents arriving from the South. That could mean cruise vessels underway off the coast of Greenland, shipping vessels carrying fuel oil along with their cargoes, or invasive species brought northward as uninvited guests aboard ships. The Arctic Council is working to develop a comprehensive picture of such risks to the Arctic marine environment, and identify possible ways to assess and mitigate the risk of pollution from increased activity.

The Arctic Council States, Permanent Participants and Working Groups are all working to keep pace with this rapid change. On November 6-7 in Tromsø, Norway, the Working Group for Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response (EPPR) assembled to examine the possibility of conducting a circumpolar marine environmental risk assessment (CMERA). The CMERA would focus on many factors, including increased Arctic shipping, tourism and hydrocarbon production. It would contribute to global understanding of the changing suite of risks to the Arctic marine environment, Arctic communities, and the people who depend on Arctic waters. The workshop brought together an international group of 40 participants from governments, research organizations, NGOs, and the private sector.

Better charting of Arctic waters

Multiple speakers pointed to the importance of better charting of Arctic waters, joking that ships may otherwise come north with only a gas-station map for navigation - "If it's blue, we can sail there." One speaker in particular spoke of running a ship aground even in comparatively well-charted Arctic waters. Despite years of experience, even expert mariners are not immune.

Bridging the knowledge gap

In addition to improved charting, there was near-universal agreement that better knowledge-sharing among the Arctic states was critical. Better knowledge-sharing can help technology to advance even more rapidly, as well as avoiding unnecessary duplication of research, thus perhaps getting more from each dollar devoted to emergency-preparedness research. The Arctic Council is at work on precisely this issue, having recently inaugurated a new task force to improve scientific cooperation.

The Arctic Council, through the research conducted by its Working Groups and through the contributions of knowledge from the Permanent Participants and Arctic States, has contributed greatly to the understanding of environmental risk in the Arctic. The Council’s ongoing work includes monitoring of pollutants and biodiversity, regional pollution mitigation, and planning for integrated ocean management, as well as many other initiatives focused on developing sustainable circumpolar communities.

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