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Environment for Europeans
8 December 2016 | Directorate-General for Environment

An integrated EU policy for the Arctic



Publication date
Directorate-General for Environment

A new integrated EU policy for the Arctic has been adopted. It focuses on strengthening international cooperation, tackling climate change, enhancing environmental protection and promoting sustainable development in this region of enormous environmental and economic importance.

The Arctic is extremely sensitive to human activity and the impact of climate change, with far-reaching consequences for the region’s role as a regulator of the Earth’s climate – including Europe’s weather patterns.

Adopted by the European Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the policy proposal will guide EU actions in the Arctic region, intensifying existing engagement via 39 actions focused on three main policy objectives:

  • Protecting and preserving the Arctic, and supporting research to address environmental impacts and climate change;
  • Promoting sustainable use of resources and economic development together with people living in the region;
  • Enhancing international cooperation through engagement and dialogue with Arctic states, indigenous peoples and other partners.

The importance of research, science and innovation will be reflected across these priority areas, supporting projects that aim to build cooperation, address climate change (see box) and ensure sustainable use of resources.

According to Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries: “We impact on the Arctic and the Arctic impacts on us. Global weather patterns, our oceans, ecosystems and local biodiversity – the Arctic influences them all. While increasing human development is inevitable, it is in our hands to do it in a sustainable way. We have to do this in full respect of the livelihoods of those who live in the region and by protecting its most valuable resource: the environment.”

Global weather patterns, our oceans, ecosystems and local biodiversity – the Arctic influences them all.

Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

The EU, with three Arctic Council states among its members (Finland, Sweden and Denmark), is a major destination for resources and goods from the Arctic region. Thus, many EU policies and laws have implications for it and the people there. In recent years, several Member States have issued national Arctic policy documents. This makes an integrated EU strategy for the region even more important to ensure coherence with national policies and to bring the greatest added value from EU action.

Tackling black carbon

In past decades, the region has been warming at almost twice the average global rate. It is particularly susceptible to emissions of short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon, mainly formed by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels and biomass. Black carbon pollutants blacken snow and ice, fuelling feedback loops that accelerate and intensify climate change impacts.

To address this, the European Commission will finance an initiative to reduce black carbon emissions in the Arctic (EUR 1.5 million) under its Partnership Instrument. The project aims to enhance international cooperation on tackling black-carbon emissions. It will initiate a process towards setting commitments and targets for major black-carbon sources which can affect the region, including gas flaring, domestic heating and maritime shipping.

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