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Towards a strategy for the Arctic

The European Union (EU) must adopt a political strategy which is adapted to the Arctic. This part of the world is particularly sensitive to climate change, and damage to its environment may have a major impact on the rest of the planet. Melting of ice may also have major geostrategic consequences, by giving access to new waterways and resources that have as yet been untapped.

ACT

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council - The European Union and the arctic region [COM(2008) 763 final – Not published in the Official Journal].

SUMMARY

The European Union (EU) wishes to develop a new policy for the Arctic, in cooperation with the different States and territories of that region.

The EU is closely linked to the Arctic region because some Member States have territories there. In addition, some of the States in the region are members of the European Economic Area (EEA), and some are strategic partners of the EU (Canada, United States, Russia).

The priority objective of this policy must be to preserve the environment, whilst ensuring the sustainable use of resources.

Preserving the Arctic region

The fight against climate change represents a challenge of paramount importance for the future of the region. Appropriate strategies should allow ecosystems and human activities to be managed in a sustainable way, as well as international processes (the transport of pollutants, etc.). Crisis management should also be improved in view of the fragility of the environment, the low demographic density and the lack of existing infrastructure.

The Commission proposes, in particular, to:

  • assess the effectiveness of policies and international agreements on the environment;
  • maintain permanent dialogue with associations;
  • promote high environmental standards and coordinate the management of sea areas;
  • cooperate at international level as regards disaster management;
  • cooperate on energy efficiency and primary energy savings.

The living conditions of indigenous peoples and the local population may be particularly affected by climate change and globalisation. The Commission therefore proposes to:

  • engage the population in regular political dialogue;
  • support self-driven development and lifestyle protection;
  • protect marine mammals whilst authorising their regulated hunting for the subsistence needs of the population.

The Arctic region must be a priority area for research, but also for the monitoring and assessment of environmental processes. In this regard, the Commission proposes to:

  • better assess the melting of ice and its effects on ecosystems;
  • develop infrastructures;
  • coordinate activities at international level;
  • develop surveillance from space (GMES system), and create an Arctic component in the Global Earth Observing System of Systems.

Sustainable use of resources

There are untapped hydrocarbon reserves in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Arctic States. However, their exploitation is subject to risks due to climate conditions and the fragility of the environment. The EU possesses sustainable exploitation technologies, and the Commission proposes, in particular, to:

  • cooperate on exploitation and the sustainable transport of resources, particularly with Norway and Russia;
  • comply with strict environmental standards with a binding international dimension;
  • promote research and development;
  • create groups associating universities, research centres and enterprises, in order to foster innovation.

Fisheries may be modified by climate change. Some sea areas are not covered by an international conservation and sustainable exploitation regime. The Commission therefore proposes to regulate the Arctic high seas area and extend the mandate of the organisations managing marine resources.

Concerning transport, the melting of ice opens up new opportunities for navigation. Such waterways would allow energy savings to made, emissions to be reduced, and congestion in current channels to be alleviated. The Commission encourages the gradual introduction of commercial navigation in the Arctic, whilst complying with:

  • mandatory international navigation rules on maritime safety, the environment and labour legislation;
  • the prohibition of discrimination by Arctic States as regards merchant vessels from third countries;
  • competition law.

Furthermore, in view of developments in tourism in the Arctic, the Commission supports improvements in passenger safety, and respect for the environment and the local population.

International governance

The North Pole and the Arctic Ocean are subject to an international legal framework. This framework comprises mainly the provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and general provisions on the exploitation of resources and protection of the environment. High seas areas are managed by the International Seabed Authority.

Countries participating in the Arctic Council and the Nordic Council cooperate at regional level. Similarly, the EU is applying the Northern Dimension policy to develop its cooperation with Norway, Iceland and Russia.

The EU wishes to uphold the development of a cooperative Arctic governance system at global level, by improving existing legal instruments. In this context, the Commission proposes to:

  • assess international agreements and maritime delimitation processes;
  • improve ecosystem management, and create a Marine Protected Area Network;
  • increase the EU’s contribution to the Arctic Council;
  • promote cross-border and regional cooperation;
  • apply the European strategy for the marine environment in the EEA and part of the Arctic Ocean.

This summary is provided for information purposes only. It does not aim to interpret or replace the reference document, which shall remain the only legally binding instrument.

Last updated: 09.11.2010

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