Press Release

Arctic faces drastic change without EU policy action

Press Release Published 15 Mar 2004 Last modified 28 Jun 2016
4 min read
The Arctic's unique environment and indigenous peoples are under increasing threat from industrial activities and the region is likely to change drastically unless decision-makers in the European Union and elsewhere address the challenges seriously.


Brussels/Copenhagen, 15 March 2004

Arctic faces drastic change without EU policy action

The Arctic's unique environment and indigenous peoples are under increasing threat from industrial activities and the region is likely to change drastically unless decision-makers in the European Union and elsewhere address the challenges seriously.

This is the key message of a new report, Arctic environment: European perspectives, published jointly by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Environment Agency (EEA).

The report, compiled by experts at the UNEP GRID Arendal centre in Norway, warns that the northern polar region faces a diverse range of threats from unsustainable development, pollution and climate change.

These threats include the fragmentation of wildlife habitats, over-harvesting of the region's once-abundant fish stocks and unsustainable use of other natural resources such as its vast forests. Unique plant and animal species are under threat or disappearing due to climate change. Pollutants, some known to be cancerous, are present in key Arctic species, causing great concern for human health.

Piecemeal development is also beginning to have a major cumulative effect on the Arctic environment, with adverse economic and social consequences for its indigenous peoples.

"With the high levels of toxic chemicals in local Inuit peoples, the melting of permafrost and the retreat of glaciers across the region, the Arctic is like an environmental early warning system for the world," UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said.

"Luckily there are measures to address these problems. On 17 May this year, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants will become legally binding. This international legal agreement commits governments to stop the production and dispersion of the so-called 'dirty dozen' highly toxic chemicals. In addition, the Kyoto Protocol can enter into force and set the scene for further measures to address climate change if the Russian Federation accedes to it."

"Decision makers across Europe must clearly recognise that adopting such measures will bring not only environmental and social benefits but also clear economic advantages at home," Mr Toepfer continued.

"When it comes to climate change, implementing renewable energy policies and other actions that lessen the huge financial burden of floods and other weather-related disasters will result in stronger, healthier economies. Rather than having a negative economic impact, the Kyoto Protocol can help stimulate clean economies that will benefit both the Arctic and Europe alike."

Prof. Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director, added:

"Governments, regulators, indigenous peoples and the private sector need to work together to manage the Arctic's natural resources and use them responsibly and equitably. These and other measures will not be accomplished without genuine commitment at all levels, but Europe's connection to the Arctic more than justifies this commitment."

"The European Union in particular has the potential to take a leading role in catalysing the response of the Arctic nations," she continued. "Decision-makers need to take the current challenges seriously and find solutions to them through a structured process of consultation."

Indigenous peoples have managed the Arctic's resources in a sustainable manner for thousands of years but today it is industrialised countries, including EU nations, that are both the main users and the main sources of pollution affecting the region. The indigenous peoples suffer most of the adverse effects of this exploitation while receiving a relatively small share of the benefits.

By focusing attention on the Arctic, the report aims to contribute to the successful implementation of the EU's second Northern Dimension action plan, covering 2004-2006.

Although the action plan's geographical priority is the Baltic area, it has the potential to address circumpolar and global issues affecting the resources and environment of the entire Arctic.

The action plan, which includes a focus on sustainable development, is expected to play an important role in developing cooperation between the EU and regional bodies related to the Arctic, such as the Arctic Council.

"The contributions that the indigenous peoples living in the High North and the Arctic can make to this process, and the role they play in the stewardship of the region, are of key importance for the implementation of the new plan," Mr Toepfer and Prof. McGlade write in a joint foreword to the report.

Note to editors

The report is available at

About UNEP

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is the environmental voice of the United Nations system. With the slogan "Environment for Development", UNEP aims to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations. For more information see

About the EEA

The European Environment Agency is the main source of information used by the European Union and its Member States in developing environment policies. The Agency aims to support sustainable development and to help achieve significant and measurable improvement in Europe's environment through the provision of timely, targeted, relevant and reliable information to policy-making agents and the public. Established by the EU in 1990 and operational in Copenhagen since 1994, the EEA is the hub of the European environment information and observation network (Eionet), a network of around 300 bodies across Europe through which it both collects and disseminates environment-related data and information.

The Agency, which is open to all nations that share its objectives, currently has 31 member countries. These are the 15 EU Member States; Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein, which are members of the European Economic Area; and the 13 EU acceding and candidate countries, namely Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, the Slovak Republic and Turkey. The EEA is the first EU body to take in the acceding and candidate countries. Negotiations on EEA membership are also under way with Switzerland.

For more information, please contact:

Robert Bisset
UNEP Spokesperson in Europe
Tel: +33 1 4437 7613
Fax: +33 1 4437 1474
Mob: +33 6 2272 5842



Document Actions