Arctic States Reaffirm Commitment to Sustainable Development of Arctic Ecosystems and People
UN Photo/Mark Garten
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Leaders reaffirmed their commitment to maintain the Arctic region as one of constructive cooperation, peace and stability.

Finland’s Chairmanship (2017-2019) focused on environmental protection, connectivity, education and meteorological cooperation.

Iceland, the 2019-2021 Chair, announced it will focus on sustainable development as its overarching theme, with four priorities: climate and green energy solutions; the Arctic marine environment; people and communities of the Arctic; and a strengthened Arctic Council.

7 May 2019: Ministers of eight Arctic States reaffirmed their commitment to the sustainable development and protection of the Arctic environment and to the well-being of Arctic inhabitants, in a Joint Ministerial Statement signed at the 11th Arctic Council Ministerial meeting. The Council’s Working Groups released reports on climate change, freshwater biodiversity, marine litter, connectivity in the Arctic and many other topics.

The 11th Arctic Council Ministerial meeting brought together ministers from eight Arctic States (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the US), leaders from the six indigenous Permanent Participant organizations and other key stakeholders. The meeting convened in Rovaniemi, Finland, from 6-7 May 2019.

In the Rovaniemi Joint Ministerial Statement, leaders reaffirm their commitment to maintain the Arctic region as one of constructive cooperation, peace and stability. Ministers also reaffirm their commitment to sustainable development and the protection of the Arctic environment. Ministers further reaffirm their commitment to the well-being of the inhabitants of the Artic, and recognize the rights of Arctic indigenous peoples, including the Council’s commitment to “consult and cooperate in good faith with Arctic indigenous peoples” and support their meaningful engagement in the Council’s activities. Leaders welcome the ongoing strategic work, and instruct Senior Arctic Officials (SAOs) to continue strategic planning “to provide guidance and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Arctic Council,” and further instruct SAOs to review the roles of the Ministerial meetings, Permanent Participants and SAOs and report to ministers in 2021.

Finland’s Foreign Minister Timo Soini summarized the Council’s achievements during his country’s Chairmanship (2017-2019) in a Chair’s Statement. The Statement highlights Finland’s focus on the Council’s work on environmental protection, connectivity, education and meteorological cooperation during its two-year chairmanship, and describes the Council’s discussion on each of these topics. Accomplishments include projects on oil spill prevention, preparedness and response, health-related projects to improve the health and mental well-being of Arctic inhabitants and teacher education to support diversity and equality in the Arctic. Meteorological cooperation has improved forecasting capabilities and available services.

On the environment and climate, the meeting recognized the value of the Arctic region’s efforts towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and emphasized the need for national efforts and cooperation on biodiversity conservation, pollution prevention and emissions reduction. The Chair’s summary of the meeting notes that a “majority of participants” regard climate change as a fundamental challenge facing the Arctic and acknowledge the urgent need to take mitigation and adaptation actions and to strengthen resilience. This majority of participants welcomed the outcomes of the Katowice Climate Change Conference, including the Paris Agreement work programme (PAWP). A majority also “noted with concern” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (SR15) and its findings. They acknowledged an urgent need for mitigation and adaptation actions, particularly to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) and black carbon emissions and limit the impacts of climate change on Arctic communities, cryosphere and ecosystems. A majority of participants underlined the serious consequences of changes in Arctic ecosystems for people who rely on and benefit from them, and called on the Council to continue monitoring and assessing changes in the region, in collaboration with relevant organizations. The meeting encouraged further work to support Arctic communities’ adaptation to climate impacts and to respond to weather extremes and emergencies, including increased risk of wildfires.

A majority of meeting participants said they regard climate change as a fundamental challenge facing the Arctic.

Participants recognized the importance of scientific research, traditional knowledge and local knowledge in the Council’s work and in Arctic decision making. The meeting reiterated the importance of developing comprehensive monitoring and observation networks in the Arctic, and urged intensified meteorological cooperation to support and improve informed decision making. The meeting welcomed the entry into force of the Agreement on Enhancing International Arctic Scientific Cooperation, the third legally binding agreement negotiated under the Council, and encouraged its implementation.

The meeting approved the Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program’s ‘State of the Arctic Freshwater Biodiversity’ report, and called for strengthened cooperation for conserving Arctic biodiversity. A majority of participants stressed that climate change is a major threat to biodiversity. The meeting encouraged efforts to monitor the biodiversity of other Arctic ecosystems, and welcomed progress in implementing the Arctic Migratory Birds Initiative. Participants recognized the importance of action to address adverse impacts of invasive alien species, and urged implementation of the Arctic Invasive Alien Species Strategy and Action Plan.

The meeting also approved an assessment on ‘Biological Effects of Contaminants on Arctic Wildlife and Fish,’ highlighting the risks contaminants transported to the Arctic pose to species and food security. The report notes with concern the elevated levels of mercury pollution and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) among some Arctic wildlife and fish populations. A majority supported further efforts through the Minamata Convention on Mercury and the Stockholm Convention on POPs. Participants approved the ‘Sustainable Management and Resilience of Arctic Wetlands’ phase 1 report, and encouraged additional work on wetland conservation and restoration and wetland ecosystem services. A majority highlighted Arctic wetlands as critical for habitat and as a carbon storage and sink.

The meeting approved the report of the Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane, noting that reported black carbon and methane emissions are decreasing. Participants supported the continuation of the Expert Group to identify and propose recommendations and review progress in reducing black carbon and methane emissions, noting that such progress improves air quality and health and limits Arctic warming. Participants also supported enhanced national efforts and international cooperation to reduce black carbon and methane emissions, and underlined the importance of demonstration projects to reduce emissions.

On the seas, the meeting emphasized the importance of sustainable use and conservation of Arctic marine resources, and recognized increasing pressure to these resources from multiple stressors, including increased human activities, invasive alien species, long-range pollution and ocean warming and acidification. Participants encouraged further cooperation on an ecologically connected, representative and effectively managed network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The meeting looked forward to the entry into force of the Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean.

Participants welcomed a number of reports on the marine environment, including the ‘Guidelines for Implementing an Ecosystem Approach to Management of Arctic Marine Ecosystems,’ a report on the meaningful engagement of indigenous peoples and local communities in marine activities, the ‘Arctic Ocean Acidification Assessment,’ and a state-of-knowledge report on ‘Underwater Noise in the Arctic.’ The meeting further welcomed the ‘Desktop Study on Marine Litter Including Microplactics in the Arctic,’ and supported development of an Arctic regional action plan for reducing marine litter. The meeting adopted the report of the task Force of Arctic Marine Cooperation II, noting the need for further work and deciding to establish a Senior Arctic Officials (SAO)-based mechanism to coordinate marine issues in the Council.

On Arctic peoples, the meting recognized the interconnected nature of human, environmental and wildlife health, and encouraged further work on the One Health initiative. Participants agreed to continue to prioritize the Council’s work on mental wellness and suicide prevention. The meeting welcomed reports on the Arctic as a food producing region, best waste management practices for small and remote Arctic communities, good practices for environmental impact assessment and meaningful engagement in the Arctic, and the Arctic Remote Energy Networks Academy achievements. The meeting also adopted the report of the Task Force on Improved Connectivity in the Arctic, acknowledging the importance of affordable, quality connectivity for Arctic inhabitants to participate in the digital economy.

Finland passed the Arctic Council Chairmanship to Iceland at the Meeting’s conclusion. Iceland has selected sustainable development as its overarching theme, and will focus on four priorities: climate and green energy solutions; the Arctic marine environment; people and communities of the Arctic; and a strengthened Arctic Council. Iceland will host the 12th Ministerial meeting in 2021. [Arctic Council Press Release] [WMO Press Release] [Rovaniemi Joint Ministerial Statement] [Chair’s Statement] [Meeting Reports]


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