Susan Christianen / Arctic Council
Lars-Erik Liljelund, the second Chair of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), shares his memories and insights from his involvement in both AMAP and the beginnings of the Arctic Council. He reflects on key reports and how they brought Arctic issues on an international agenda and he shares the secret behind AMAP’s success: team support from the AMAP secretariat.

When did you first get involved in the work of AMAP and the Arctic Council?

When I entered the process, the Arctic Council actually was not on the scene yet. It was its predecessor, the Arctic Environment Protection Strategy (AEPS), which was formed in Rovaniemi in 1991 under the Ministers of Environment. The AEPS was a successful cooperation mechanism between the Arctic States on environmental issues in the Arctic and it established different Working Groups, amongst which was AMAP.

At the time I started to work for the AEPS, I was the head of the Swedish Environment Protection Agency and I was working with international environmental negotiations. I also participated in the negotiations that established the Arctic Council. During that time, I was the Vice-Chair of AMAP and later, in 1996, I became the Chair of AMAP under the Arctic Council.

What were some of the most important issues AMAP was dealing with in its early years?

When I was involved in AMAP’s work, we focused on pollution issues, this included persistent organic pollutants (POPs), radioactivity and sulfur depositions through acid rain. Especially POPs were an important issue because the pollutants were transported from outside the region and the Arctic acted as a sink for these pollutants.

This directly impacted peoples of the Arctic, which relied on traditional food, such as marine mammals and fatty fish – animals the POPs accumulated in. This was very challenging for us as AMAP primarily monitored the concentration and transport of pollutants in nature, we only operated a small human health program at that time.

Generally, our work has been very important for solving the problems related to POPs. AMAP’s monitoring and assessment work provided arguments to control these pollutants and directly fed into international conventions, such as the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

It was the first time that a report, which focused solely on Arctic issues was presented on an international stage and as a result, people became interested in different Arctic issues.

In 1998, AMAP published its first full scientific synthesis report on Arctic pollution issues. Which impact did the report have?

As we established AMAP, we decided to produce these types of synthesis reports about contaminants in the Arctic environment, especially on POPs and radioactivity. This work started during the AEPS. When we then published the AMAP Assessment Report: Arctic Pollution Issues in 1998 and one year earlier the summary report, it gained a lot of attention. I remember that I was invited to go to New York to the follow up session of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro to present our results. It was the first time that a report, which focused solely on Arctic issues was presented on an international stage and as a result, people became interested in different Arctic issues.

You had also added a chapter on climate change – and this was before AMAP officially worked on climate issues, wasn’t it?

Yes, David Stone, the first AMAP Chair, and I decided that we needed to look at climate change issues in the report as climate is also important in regard to pollutants. And when we published the report, the United States said that it was important that we take more action on climate issues. They offered additional funding to go more in depth with climate change impacts in the Arctic and this was what started the process that would eventually lead to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA). ACIA has had a huge impact on the climate change discussion in the Arctic.

People on the outside first did not believe that we would be able to do this – but we did. We asked scientists across the Arctic States to contribute their knowledge and research insights and people wanted to contribute to this effort.

AMAP’s reports have from the beginning involved a wide range of scientific experts. How were you able to bring these people together?

I think this is one of our main accomplishments that we have been able to produce these large scientific assessments, collecting so much information about the Arctic with the help of several hundred experts. People on the outside first did not believe that we would be able to do this – but we did. We asked scientists across the Arctic States to contribute their knowledge and research insights and people wanted to contribute to this effort. I do not remember one single expert who did not want to get engaged.

One of the main reasons that we were and still are able to produce these reports is of course the AMAP Secretariat. Their team support has been very important to the success of AMAP.

Title photo: Susan Christianen / Arctic Council

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