Why we need to protect the Arctic

The Arctic is a vulnerable region in an ecological respect and has become increasingly exposed to the effects of industrial and agricultural activities worldwide. Wind, precipitation and currents carry pollution to the Arctic region. Thus, protecting the environment of the Arctic is an international obligation. By Børge Brende

Already, emissions of mercury from coal burning in other parts of the world affect flora and fauna in the Arctic. Specifically, Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), a mixture of industrial chemicals, are thought to have severe impact on the animals’ immune and hormone systems and their reproductive abilities. In the Norwegian Arctic, polar bears with genital characteristics resembling both sexes have been found. We also see negative effects from other contaminants on seals, seabirds and white whales.

The Arctic is of special interest as indications suggest that the effects of climate change will appear here first. Due to the fragility of the Arctic ecosystem, climate change may lead to profound negative consequences for the biological diversity. Many scientists warn that climate warming in the Arctic will have effects which extend far beyond the region, as changes in ice cover and deep water circulation may affect global climate patterns. The Arctic may serve as a window for future climate changes, as well as forewarning of possible regional and global consequences of these changes.

the Arctic can easily become a waste bucket, if we don’t take action to counteract negative trends

Although large parts of the Arctic environment are relatively undisturbed, the threat it faces are intensifying and spreading within the area itself. Economic and other demands on the Arctic and its resources are increasing. Petroleum and mineral development, tourism, shipping, hydroelectric dams and commercial fishing are among the activities with large potential and actual impact. The Arctic can easily become a waste bucket, if we don’t take action to counteract negative trends.

What can we do to save the Arctic? First we need to monitor and understand the environmental changes that are taking place over time in the region. The precautionary principle must be the guiding principle. The global nature of these challenges calls for the widest possible co-operation by all countries.

The Kyoto Protocol is an important first step to address climate change, but ultimately we need a broader global and political response to combat the challenges of climate change. There is also a need to increase our understanding of the potential impacts of climate change in the Arctic. In this respect, Norway participates actively in the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment Cooperation (ACIA), which was started by the Arctic Council in 2000 and will present its findings in 2004.

According to the Director of NASA, Mr Sean O’Keefe, Svalbard has become the world’s most important monitoring and research station with regard to the environment. This assertation is due to the fact that early effects on the global eco-system can be detected at these islands, and in the Arctic. Norway has a specific obligation related to the Svalbard

Treaty. Through tight regulations of the islands’ wild and unspoiled nature, we try to keep this part of the Arctic as a window to better understanding of the global environment.

BØRGE BRENDE Minister of the Environment, Norway

See related articles:
Lessons from the Svalbard ice
Memorable Svalbard
The world's eyes are on the Artic
Conserving nature, Creating wealth
The Artic regions and climate change

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