The Declaration on the Protection of the Arctic Environment of 1991 is a statement by the eight countries with an outreach above the Arctic Circle of their concern about threats to the Arctic environment and the impact of pollution on fragile Arctic ecosystems. These eight signatory countries are Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States.
Through the Declaration, the signatory countries emphasize their "responsibility to protect and preserve the Arctic environment and recognize the special relationship of the indigenous peoples and local populations to the Arctic and their unique contribution to the protection of the Arctic environment." The Declaration is the first instrument, sponsored by all the Arctic states, that covers comprehensive issues related to the protection of the Arctic environment. The agreement contains a political commitment to continue to meet and to implement an ongoing environmental protection regime in the Arctic.
The Arctic is a fragile ecosystem and comparatively simple in structure. The low temperatures obstruct the natural breakdown of pollutants so that a low level of pollution, by other ecosystem standards, causes harm. Adverse effects on one part of these ecosystems will have far-reaching consequences than in ecosystems with a greater abundance of species. Thus the need to create and implement protective controls is paramount.
The problem of environmental pollution in the Arctic came into focus in the 1980s with concerns over the pollution of the northern parts of Finland by the Russian mining industry on the Kola Peninsula. In Rovaniemi, Finland, in September 1989, the eight Arctic states met for the first time to discuss a Finnish proposal on cooperation to protect the environment and agreed to work toward a ministerial level meeting.
In the past, the east-west conflict was a major stumbling block to the development of regional cooperation in the Arctic. Soviet-United States tensions and conflicts began diminishing after Mikhail Gorbachev, in his speech in Murmansk in October 1987, proposed strengthening cooperation among the Arctic states. He indicated a number of specific issues for cooperation, among which were the establishment of a joint Arctic scientific council and measures to protect the Arctic environment.
The creation of the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) in 1990 also contributed to enhance regional cooperation. The IASC is a nongovernmental scientific organization charged with encouraging international consultation and cooperation for scientific research.
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