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The world’s eyes are on the Arctic

Canada’s Arctic is a magnificent place. It has been my privilege to visit our far north on a number of occasions and witness the landscape of endless variety and unique beauty. This year I also travelled to many polar nations and saw first-hand the inspiring land we all share. By David Anderson

It is difficult to imagine how humankind could possibly make an impression on a land of such seeming power, or do harm to any creature tough enough to survive an Arctic winter.

aboriginal leaders tell me their people can no longer rely on the traditional knowledge of the land that has guided them for centuries – the sea ice is different

Yet aboriginal leaders tell me their people can no longer rely on the traditional knowledge of the land that has guided them for centuries – the sea ice is different, there is more run-off from snow pack and glaciers, winter comes later and spring comes earlier.

More than 40 percent of Canada’s landmass is in the Arctic. It accounts for 65 percent of our marine coastline, and holds 30 percent of our freshwater resources. Clearly, we have an interest in protecting it, but few of its environmental problems are native – they originate thousands of kilometers away. Thus, fostering global cooperation is a priority
for Canada. It is especially important for Arctic states to work together, which we have been doing since 1996 in the Arctic Council.

Declaring new national parks, conducting research and signing international agreements are an important part of protecting the delicate Arctic environment – and Canada is doing all of these – but they are only a beginning. If we do not respect the land the parks protect, if we do not act on the knowledge we have already gained, if we do not implement the treaties we have signed, we will have accomplished little.
As I discussed with colleagues in Russia, Norway, Finland and Iceland this fall, the Arctic states are important strategic allies for Canada. We face similar environmental threats and northern economic challenges and share similar northern values.

Collaboration among us is essential for the diagnosis and remedy of threats to the Arctic ecosystem. Just as the Arctic Council’s work on long range transport of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) provided the catalyst for international action, the Council’s work on climate change, if positioned properly, could do the same.

Canada’s priorities over the next several years include the completion of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, the Arctic Human Development Report and the Arctic Marine Strategic Plan. These three projects will be the foundation for the collaborative work that will stimulate regional, and indeed, global action.

There is a sense of urgency among Arctic states to focus on climate change. We are the nations who are already experiencing it. It is up to us to lead response.

The world’s eyes will turn northward in 2004 and remain so as we move towards the International Polar Year in 2007, when we will all celebrate the Arctic. Let us be resolved, throughout actions now to protect this harsh yet fragile environment, to ensure that generations to come may be so fortunate to celebrate the Arctic in the future.

DAVID ANDERSON, P.C., M.P.Minister of the Environment, Canada

See related articles:
Lessons from the Svalbard ice
Memorable Svalbard
Why we need to protect the artic
Conserving nature, Creating wealth
The Artic regions and climate change