GRID Polar Division News

First Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting Iqaluit, 17-18 September 1998

Statement by UNEP
Chairman, Ministers, Permanent Participants, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the context of this historic first meeting of Arctic Council Ministers, UNEP would like to mark the sad passing of one colleague, Mr. Tony Edwards, and the arrival of another, UNEP's new Executive Director, Dr. Klaus Toepfer.

Both have worked hard to strengthen UNEP's role in fostering international consensus and action on emerging environmental challenges. Both have shown a personal commitment to the Arctic region.

Within the United Nations system, UNEP has been given increasing authority to co-ordinate the environmental dimension of sustainable development. This requires UNEP to be even more concerned with the concept and practical implications of linkages-linkages between scientific and socio-economic assessments, linkages between the results of those assessments and policy development/implementation, linkages between regional and global environmental agendas; linkages between polluting activities in one region and adverse impacts in another region; linkages between human settlements and the environment; linkages between public and private sector interests; linkages among the legal regimes dealing with environmental concerns; and linkages among the environmental programmes and activities of relevant institutions.

Moving to a more concrete level, UNEP provides direct support to the work of the Arctic Council through its GRID office in Arendal, Norway. UNEP would like to thank the Norwegian government for its continued support to GRID-Arendal which enables UNEP to maintain a strong link between Arctic and global environmental issues.

A good example of this link is the interaction between the Arctic Council working groups (specifically AMAP, CAFF and PAME) and UNEP's Global Environmental Outlook (GEO) reporting process. The second GEO report, which will be published next summer, incorporates many of the outputs from these working groups. This cooperation helps to raise the profile of the Arctic as an important region in itself, and as an indicator region for the rest of the world. It also ensures scientifically credible and cost-efficient harmonisation of the work of the Arctic Council and UNEP's global environmental assessments.

Through the arrangement with the Government of Norway, and additional support from UNEP's headquarters, GRID-Arendal continues to support the work of AMAP and CAFF. The AMAP assessment report, presented at this meeting, is a result of over two years continuous collaboration, and UNEP is providing additional funding to make the report available on the Internet and CD-ROM.

In the past twelve months, GRID-Arendal has been active in assisting CAFF with its Circumpolar Protective Area Network and has worked with CAFF to develop an outline communications strategy for the entire CAFF programme. GRID-Arendal is currently working with the Russian CAFF delegation and the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) in the UK to assess gaps in the network of Russian Arctic protected areas. UNEP would encourage governments to support the extension of this work to cover the whole Arctic region.

UNEP continues to support the active dissemination of data and information through modern technologies such as the Internet. GRID-Arendal hosts homepages for both CAFF and AMAP as well as a number of the Observers to this process. From the databases of GRID-Arendal, direct access is provided to Arctic environmental data and information that the general public can download for their own information and use. GRID-Arendal is also an active member of the International Arctic Environmental Data Directory (ADD) circumpolar initiative, where all Arctic Countries and other countries with Arctic interests, are linked to provide open, seamless access to thousands of Arctic data sets and information products.

UNEP actively supports the work of indigenous peoples in the Russian Arctic region. Together with the Arctic Council's Indigenous Peoples Secretariat, GRID-Arendal was instrumental in organising the first ever gathering of Russian indigenous peoples' leaders to discuss environmental threats to their traditional lifestyles. A draft report from this seminar, held in Moscow during March 1998, is available for viewing here. Copies of the report in final print will be sent to all participants at this meeting within the next month. Another anticipated UNEP publication, Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity, reflects the views of indigenous peoples from the Arctic and other regions. UNEP strongly supports the importance of full indigenous participation in the Arctic Council. Throughout the years, UNEP has found that indigenous peoples have solutions to many of the challenges facing the world, and they can and should play a key role in ensuring a sustainable future for the Arctic region.

UNEP has continued its efforts to protect human health and the environment from the dangers of persistent organic pollutants (POPs). During a recent Diplomatic Conference jointly convened by UNEP and FAO (Rotterdam, 10-11 September 1998), governments adopted and signed a new convention on the application of prior informed consent to international trade in certain hazardous chemicals. Signed by 60 countries, including several from this region, the convention covers a number of POPs and will help to prevent unwanted shipments of such chemicals to developing countries. UNEP's efforts to assist governments in the development of a POPs convention by the year 2000 are on track. An expert group established to develop science-based criteria and a procedure for identifying additional POPs as candidates for future international action is scheduled to meet from 26 to 30 October 1998 in Bangkok. A second Inter-governmental Negotiating Committee meeting, scheduled to be held from 8 to 12 February 1999 in Geneva, will discuss a draft convention text which UNEP has been asked to prepare.

To help Governments to prepare for POPs negotiations and identify issues relevant to the 12 POPs at the regional and national levels, UNEP and the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety convened a series of awareness raising workshops during 1997-98 which reached a total of 138 developing countries and countries with economies in transition, including the Russian Federation. With a recent workshop in Moscow (14-17 July 1998), UNEP now is beginning a second round of workshops to explore practical POPs identification and elimination/reduction mechanisms. Other POPs-related activities include: an Internet-based POPs Clearinghouse; a report on POPs regulation; an inventory of information sources on POPs; a draft handbook on analytical methods for monitoring POPs in effluents, environmental media and human tissues; ongoing case studies on how countries have identified POPs and reduced/eliminated their releases into the environment; a planned global characterisation of the releases and levels of POPs; an Internet-based expert system for identifying safe alternatives to POPs; draft guidelines for the identification of PCB-containing material; a planned inventory of global PCB destruction capacity; and draft guidelines for identifying the sources of release of dioxins and furans. Additional information on POPs can be found at

UNEP congratulates the Council on PAME's work to produce a Regional Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities. Once adopted, we would urge the Council to support its full implementation as a means to control and reduce land-based activities that pollute to the Arctic marine environment. The link between this Regional Programme and UNEP's Global Programme of Action should be strengthened with the imminent establishment of a 10-person GPA technical office in The Hague, and UNEP would encourage information exchange and active collaboration between this office and the Council.

In addition to the above, programmatic linkages between UNEP and the Council could be made in the areas of environmental impact assessment (both legal and technical aspects), environmental emergencies (early warning, preparedness and response), pollutant release and transfer registers, cleaner production, sustainable tourism, environmental law and dispute avoidance/settlement. UNEP would be interested in communicating further with the Council about how this cooperation might be effected.

Yesterday we celebrated International Ozone Day. Today we celebrate the first Ministerial meeting of this Council.

For more information:
Marceil Yeater
Legal Officer
Environmental Law and Institutions Programme Activity Centre
United Nations Environment Programme
P.O. Box 30552
Nairobi, Kenya
Tel: +254 2 62 42 51
Fax: +254 2 230 198

Svein Tveitdal
Managing Director
P.O.Box 1602, Myrene
N-4801 Arendal
Tel: +47 370 35 650
Fax: + 47 370 35 050

Monday 21 Sep 1998