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Safe Shipping and Marine Environmental Protection

The Arctic Council’s vision for the Arctic marine environment is one that is healthy, productive, and resilient, and that supports human well-being...

The Arctic Council’s vision for the Arctic marine environment is one that is healthy, productive, and resilient, and that supports human well-being and sustainable development for current and future generations. As changes happen in the region, including retreating sea ice that is opening Arctic marine areas for increased shipping and resource use, affecting ecosystems, economies and traditional ways of life for indigenous peoples, the Arctic Council is continuing to assess these changes and identify options to address them.

During Canada’s chairmanship, the Council, primarily through its Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) working group, has been working on a number of important projects related to safe shipping and the protection of the marine environment.

One of these projects, a Canadian chairmanship priority initiative, has focused on analyzing and encouraging sustainable tourism across the circumpolar Arctic. The Arctic Marine Tourism Project (AMTP) has identified issues or gaps where the Arctic Council can add value by articulating best practices in relation to marine-based Arctic tourism. The best practice guidelines that have been developed focus on aspects of Arctic marine tourism that fall outside the competency of, or remain unaddressed by, the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

The Arctic Marine Strategic Plan (2015-2025), AMSP, will guide the Arctic Council’s work on Arctic marine issues for the next ten years. Taking account of environmental changes, new knowledge and recent assessments, the AMSP provides the building blocks towards more coordinated and integrated approaches and supports policy decisions at the local, national, regional, and international levels. It also responds to commitments by the global community on sustainable development and protection of marine biodiversity and the marine environment through promotion of the ecosystem approach and integrated coastal and ocean management. The AMSP recognizes the importance of respecting the people living in the Arctic, and recommends efforts in this regard. An important strategic action is to enhance the economic, social and cultural well-being of Arctic inhabitants, including Arctic indigenous peoples, and to strengthen their capacity to adapt to changes in the Arctic marine environment.

The 2009 Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA) was a landmark report for the Council, focusing on current and future marine Arctic activity and related safety and environmental protection issues. The 3rd report on the Status on Implementation of the AMSA Report Recommendations for 2013-2015 was recently completed. This report reflects the status and progress made on the 17 recommendations contained in the original AMSA report, including related to the promotion of Arctic shipping safety and environmental awareness at national, regional, and international levels.

The Arctic Council, through PAME, also followed closely the development of the IMO’s Polar Code, which aims to provide the regulations needed to safeguard shipping and protect the environment in harsh Arctic conditions and is expected to enter into force in January 2017.

In addition to the Council’s marine strategic planning work and the focus on sustainable tourism and shipping safety, a framework for a pan-Arctic network of marine protected areas (MPAs) was also developed during Canada’s chairmanship. MPA networks help protect and restore marine biodiversity, ecosystem function and special natural features as well as preserve cultural heritage, and take into account traditional use of marine resources. The new framework sets out a common vision for international cooperation in MPA network development, based on international best practices and previous Arctic Council initiatives.

All of the above-mentioned reports will be available to the public after the Iqaluit 2015 Ministerial meeting being held on April 24-25, 2015.

PAME’s mandate is to address policy and other measures related to the protection of the Arctic marine and coastal environment from both land and sea-based activities. These measures include coordinated strategic plans as well as developing programs, assessments and guidelines, all of which aim to complement or supplement existing international arrangements.


Photo: Marie and Alistair Knock / CC BY-NC-SA