The Arctic is characterized by a harsh climate with extreme variation in light and temperature, short summers, extensive snow and ice cover in winter and large areas of permafrost.
Its terrain varies from high mountains to flat plain, wide tundra and great expanses of sea, snow and ice. The plants and animals of the Arctic have adapted to these conditions, but this has rendered them in some cases more sensitive to increased human activities.
The lives of indigenous and other Arctic peoples are closely linked to local resources, particularly by their dependence on wildlife harvesting. However, a combination of several factors makes the Arctic and its inhabitants among the most exposed populations in the world.
The biggest concerns today are the effects from long-range air and sea transport of contaminants and certain human activities such as interference with ancient animal migration routs, oil and chemical spills into the sea, and the unforeseen impacts from the climate change causing the melting of the ice cover.
Many of these impacts will take a very long time to reverse: the low temperatures mean slow chemical breakdown of contaminants, whereas populations of large mammals can be slow to recover.
|The eight Arctic countries, Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russian Federation, Sweden and the United states, adopted and Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS) in 1991.
In 1996, Foreign Ministers of the Arctic States agreed in the Ottawa Declaration, to form the Arctic Council with a mandate to undertake a broad programme to include all dimensions of sustainable development. The Arctic Council is a high-level intergovernmental forum that provides a mechanism to address the common concerns and challenges faced by the Arctic governments and the people of the Arctic addressing all three of the main pillars of sustainable development; the environmental, social and economic.
The scientific work and policy guidance of the Arctic Council is carried out in several expert working groups and within special initiatives.
New opportunities for Arctic circumpolar cooperation emerged in the late 1980s during the final reformist phase before the dissolution of the soviet union. Environmental cooperation was identified as a first step in promoting comprehensive security in the region.