The Arctic has become increasingly exposed to the exploitation of fisheries and hydrocarbon and mineral resources. The Arctic is also home to significant, and in some areas growing, populations of indigenous peoples. Conservation of the Arctic's natural heritage as well as the sustainable use of its resources is required.
Several governments of Nordic countries in particular, have recently started a thorough re-examination of their northern policies. The new initiatives are aimed at: "broadening the context" by putting environmental protection on the wider agenda of the Arctic Council; "intensifying sub-regional cooperation", particularly in the Barents region; and "enlarging the picture" by stressing the European Union's "northern dimension".
The Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy, 1991 (AEPS) – an outcome of the Alta Declaration on the Protection of the Arctic Environment – was developed by the eight Arctic governments (Canada, Denmark/Greenland, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States of America) in consultation with indigenous peoples in the Arctic region. It was agreed in Rovaniemi, Finland, in June 1991. The Strategy aims to protect the Arctic environment and to strengthen further joint efforts to develop, implement and improve protection programmes. The working priorities, based on the recommendation of the Senior Arctic Affairs Officials to the Fourth Ministerial Conference on the AEPS are: (1) the conservation, monitoring and assessment of threats to Arctic flora, fauna and their habitats; and (2) the further development and implementation of the Circumpolar Protected Areas Network Strategy and Action Plan (CPAN). Sustainable development, including environmental protection strategies, scientific advice and traditional knowledge, is to be an overriding objective for all activities carried out by the Arctic Council.
The main implementation mechanism of the Strategy is the Programme on the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF). The majority of CAFF's activities are directed at species and habitat conservation and at integrating indigenous people. CAFF's major area of work in habitat conservation to date is the Circumpolar Protected Area Network Project (CPAN), which has produced seven reports, and a number of animal and plant habitat mapping projects. The CAFF Programme carries out a variety of work on rare and endangered species and on shared species of special conservation concern and has developed lists for each. CAFF has also prepared overviews of national species classification and recovery schemes. CPAN will help to implement the goals of the AEPS by aiming to establish, within the context of an overall Arctic conservation strategy, an adequate and well-managed network of protected areas that has a high probability of maintaining the dynamic biological diversity of the Arctic region in perpetuity. The implementation of the AEPS is closely allied with CAFF, the Programme for the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment, the Environmental Impact Assessment Group and the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme.
In 1996, the Programme on the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) set up a Biodiversity Task Force to develop a long-term Cooperative Strategy for the Conservation of Biodiversity in the Arctic Region. A framework for this Action Plan has been published. The main objectives are: (1) to support and implement measures for the conservation of Arctic genetic resources, species and their habitats; (2) to establish protected areas in the Arctic region where they contribute to the conservation of ecosystems, habitats and species; (3) to manage activities outside protected areas in order to maintain the ecological integrity of the protected areas and to ensure the conservation of biodiversity; (4) to enhance the integration of biodiversity conservation and sustainable use objectives into sectoral and cross-sectoral plans and policies; and (5) to enhance efforts to monitor Arctic biodiversity, paying attention to species, populations, habitats and ecosystems which are of greatest ecological, cultural, social, economic or scientific value.
Unlike AEPS, which focused on 'threats to the Arctic environment and the impact of pollution on fragile Arctic ecosystems', the Arctic Council Declaration considers the environment in a much wider context. Formulating a proper relationship between sustainable development and environmental protection has emerged as a key policy requirement.
The closer involvement of the European Union in Arctic cooperation, creating the Union's 'northern dimension', will be taken into consideration in the preparation of the European Union's Sixth Environmental Programme. This cooperation will extend the provision of 2000-06 funding through the next round of the TACIS, PHARE and Interreg programmes.
The International Arctic Science Committee (IASC), founded in 1990, by national scientific organizations of Arctic countries, initiates, coordinates and promotes basic and applied research in the Arctic, as well as providing scientific advice on Arctic issues. In 1993, IASC founded the International Science Initiative in the Russian Arctic (ISIRA). ISIRA aims to help develop a Russian and international scientific programme to assist Arctic science, environmental protection and recovery, and sustainable development in the Russian Arctic.
For some, especially the major states, Arctic issues are largely peripheral to domestic politics and the economy. This has resulted in an inability or unwillingness, or both, to pay much attention to the problems of the Arctic and its environment, not least in the allocation of funds. There is no agreement on funding at the international level. Cooperative activities, and especially the hosting of Arctic programme secretariats, depend on voluntary contributions of the participating countries.