It is recognized that the economic potential of the Arctic is enormous, and its sustainable development is key to the region's resilience and prosperity...

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Since it was established in 1996, the Arctic Council has focused on work that promotes sustainable development and environmental protection in the region.  In 2013, marking the end of the first round of chairmanships, Ministers adopted a Vision for the Arctic, that looks to the future.  Working towards a prosperous Arctic is part of this vision.  It is recognized that the economic potential of the Arctic is enormous and its sustainable development is key to the region’s resilience and prosperity. In that vein, Arctic states indicated they will continue to work cooperatively to support the development of sustainable Arctic economies to build self-sufficient, vibrant and healthy Arctic communities for present and future generations.

During Canada’s chairmanship, the Task Force to Facilitate the Creation of a Circumpolar Business Forum worked to create a new body – the Arctic Economic Council (AEC).  Launched at its founding meeting in September 2014, the AEC is intended to serve as a forum for interaction between the Arctic Council and the circumpolar business community.  Operating as an independent body of business representatives, it provides a venue for industries and indigenous businesses operating in the Arctic to advance Arctic-oriented business interests, share best practices, and engage in deeper cooperation. Its work will ultimately benefit families and communities living in the Arctic region. 

The Arctic Council recognizes that economic development must take place in a responsible and sustainable manner. To address issues related to increased oil and gas activities in the region, the Council is undertaking extensive work on oil pollution prevention, preparedness and response.  

Working closely with the IMO, the Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response (EPPR) working group addressed a critical operational gap through the development of the Guide to Oil Spill Response in Snow and Ice Conditions in the Arctic.  The guide aims to identify and describe aspects of planning and operations directly associated with a response to an oil spill in snow and ice conditions.

Canada, with support from EPPR, also carried out the first international exercise under the auspices of the 2013 Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution, Preparedness and Response in the Arctic (MOSPA).  The scenario was an accident in which marine diesel was spilled into Simpson Strait.  As a follow-up of the international exercise, Canada arranged in 2014 a tabletop exercise to evaluate the legal and procedural requirements to allow foreign resources to enter and operate in Canada as part of the provision of mutual aid. All Arctic Council states participated, and EPPR will be using the lessons from the exercise to develop amendments to the MOSPA operational guidelines where necessary.

Critically important for Arctic preparedness and response, is sharing information about assets and capabilities of Arctic states to respond to emergencies.  The Arctic Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA) – a mapping platform that integrates data into a common operating picture of response assets and threatened environmental resources into a single interactive map  – will assist with response operations by providing a better picture of real-time risks and potential assets States have at their disposal.  It will further improve communication and coordination among responders, leading to better results and faster responses. Similarly, the Arctic Environmental Hazards and National Programs report assembles information on national programs in Arctic states to respond to risks in the Arctic. 

Complementing the work of EPPR, the Protection of the Marine Environment (PAME) working group’s Systems Safety Management and Safety Culture Report is a follow up to the 2009 Arctic Offshore Oil and Gas Guidelines.  It outlines key issues and challenges in safety management and provides recommended actions or approaches that regulators should pursue for improving system safety when regulating or influencing the safety of offshore oil and gas operations in the Arctic.  Increasing safety is a preventive measure that can help reduce major oil and gas accidents in the region.

Recognizing the importance of preventive measures, the Arctic Council’s Task Force on Arctic Marine Oil Pollution Prevention has developed a Framework Plan to enhance cooperation to prevent oil pollution in the Arctic from petroleum and maritime activities. Focused on enhancing information exchange, the Framework Plan addresses issues such as developing measures for improved safety in petroleum activity and promoting standardization activities in the sector, strengthening regulatory cooperation among national jurisdictions, strengthening maritime navigation, traffic monitoring and management, improving navigational charts, and reducing risks associated with the use and transport of heavy fuel oil.  Implementation of the Framework plan will be carried out by the appropriate authorities in each Arctic State, who have begun a dialogue among regulators with the goal of formalizing future cooperation.

These initiatives demonstrate how the Arctic States are collectively taking steps to protect the Arctic marine environment, resources, local communities and traditional livelihoods as economic activity in the region increases.

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All of the above-mentioned reports will be available to the public after the Iqaluit 2015 Ministerial meeting being held on April 24-25, 2015.

The mandate of the Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response Working Group (EPPR) is to address the many aspects of prevention, preparedness and response to environmental emergencies in the Arctic, as well as search and rescue (SAR). EPPR’s goal is to contribute to the protection of the Arctic environment from the threat or impact that may result from an accidental release of pollutants (i.e. oil, chemicals and radiation) or questions related to the consequences of natural disasters.

The Task Force on Arctic Marine Oil Pollution Prevention (TFOPP) was established at the 2013 Kiruna Ministerial and mandated to “identify how best the Arctic Council can contribute to marine oil pollution prevention in the Arctic, recommend a concrete plan of action, and, as appropriate, develop cooperative arrangements to implement the Action Plan.”

PAME’s mandate is to address policy and other measures related to the protection of the Arctic marine and coastal environment from both land and sea-based activities. These measures include coordinated strategic plans as well as developing programs, assessments and guidelines, all of which aim to complement or supplement existing international arrangements.

 

Photo: Kristine Riskaer / Creative Commons BY