E.U. Presents New Arctic Policy


Published Apr 27, 2016 6:10 PM by The Maritime Executive

The European Commission presented its new Arctic policy on Wednesday. The policy aims to protect the Arctic, to promote sustainable use of resources and to promote international cooperation and engagement with indigenous peoples. 

In order to further tackle climate change and safeguard environmental protection,
the E.U. has already committed itself to reducing its greenhouse gases by 40 percent in 2030 and 80 percent by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. The E.U. will strive for an international implementation of the climate agreement struck in Paris in December last year. Already 20 percent of the E.U. budget has been reserved for climate adaptation and mitigation measures.

The E.U. stands ready to work together with Arctic states, including their local population and indigenous communities, and relevant international fora to develop an ambitious climate adaptation agenda for the Arctic region. The E.U. will also contribute to international measures to limit black carbon and methane emissions.

Twenty-two of Europe’s leading Arctic research institutions will develop an integrated European polar research program under the E.U.-PolarNet initiative. The E.U. is to support the transnational access to research infrastructures in the Arctic (research stations, scientific vessels, satellite observations) and the open access to data resources. 

The E.U.’s Copernicus space program is to support international research on climate change in the Arctic.

A number of international environmental agreements, such as the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, are highly relevant for the Arctic, but are still far from implemented by signatories, the E.U. is to encourage their implementation.

Pollutants and heavy metals that are currently polluting the Arctic’s food web should be phased out between now and 2020.

As part of the sustainable management of the Arctic Ocean, the E.U. supports the development of a network of marine protected areas in the Arctic. The E.U. is keen to develop an international agreement that is to prevent unregulated fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean. 

The E.U. will continue to actively engage in international fora relevant for the Arctic, such as the Arctic Council, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the Northern Dimension. The E.U. will cooperate with all of its Arctic partners, not only third countries who have territories in the Arctic, but also sub-regional countries with increasing Arctic interests such as China, India and Japan, for example on science and research.

As E.U. policies directly affect the region, the EU will continue to engage with Arctic indigenous peoples and local communities to ensure that their rights are respected and their views are reflected in the ongoing development of E.U. policies.

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, said: “A safe, sustainable and prosperous Arctic not only serves the four million people living there, our European Union and the rest of the world. It is a region of immense environmental, social, and economic importance to us all. The steps taken today underline our commitment to the region, its States and its peoples, and to ensuring that the region remains an example of constructive international cooperation. Because the Arctic is also crucial in terms of regional and global security, and a strategic component of our foreign policy.”

Danish Shipowners Point to the IMO

Simon C. Bergulf, Director E.U. Affairs for the Danish Shipowners' Association, welcomed the strategy but called on the E.U. to support initiatives in the Arctic Council and in the IMO.

"The E.U.'s Arctic strategy is an interesting and broad initiative which reflects a greater European focus on this important region. The E.U. must, however, be careful not to take too many parallel initiatives in the Arctic, which will compete with existing and successful forums, such as the Arctic Council,” he said.
Bergulf points out that Arctic policy and legislation should, as far as possible, be formulated at international level and on the basis of the cooperation between the Arctic states. The E.U.'s role should therefore primarily be to support this international approach.
"The IMO and the Arctic Council have shown their ability to discuss the many complex issues faced in the Arctic. It should, therefore, be ensured that international regulations have priority over regional rules, which could not be enforced as effectively. The E.U. should instead focus on the areas where it can really add value, for example by supporting research and development as well as investments in various forms of infrastructure in the Arctic," he says.

Legal Framework

There is an extensive international legal framework that applies to the Arctic:

The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which asserts jurisdictional rights of nations in the various maritime zones. The E.U. is a signatory of UNCLOS.

The IMO - all E.U. Member States are IMO members and the European Commission has an observer status.

The Arctic Council is an international, intergovernmental forum that is directly concerned with the Arctic's sustainable development and environmental protection. Founded in 1996, it does not address boundary or resource disputes or any other issue related to security matters. The E.U. is an ad hoc observer to Arctic Council proceedings, three Member States are members of the Arctic Council (the Kingdom of Denmark, Finland and Sweden), while seven Member States are permanent observers (France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom).

The Barents Euro Arctic Council (BEAC) is the forum for intergovernmental and interregional cooperation in the Barents Region. The European Commission is a full member.

The Northern Dimension is a joint policy between the E.U., Russia, Norway and Iceland. It was initiated in 1999 and aims at providing a framework to promote dialogue and concrete cooperation in issues such as economy, culture, environment and transport.

The OSPAR Convention aims to protect the marine environment and ecosystems from emerging threats linked to pollution, maritime activities, together with climate change and increased human presence.

The E.U. policy is available here.