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University of the Arctic report urges quick action on arctic policies

Arctic nations should move quickly to adopt shipping rules, improve safeguards against oil spills and create environmental and safety standards in polar waters, according to a new report released from the University of the Arctic’s Institute for Applied Circumpolar Policy.

The report is the fifth produced by the IACP, a partnership among the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Dartmouth College and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The institute promotes discussion of critical policy issues facing the circumpolar North as a result of climate change.

"The scientific evidence of climate change and global warming is now irrefutable and the pace of global warming, sea ice melt and permafrost thaw has accelerated," the report notes. "The 'new' Arctic and its abundant energy and natural resources are now, more than ever, exposed to development. The Arctic is a region where Russia, Europe and North America, working with indigenous peoples and interested non-arctic states, have taken initial steps to make the Arctic a peaceful and stable region where productive, sustainable development is achievable. The compelling issue now is how to build, strengthen and sustain this cooperation."

The IACP urged the Arctic Council to expand on the report's recommendations at its May 15 meeting in Sweden. The council is an intergovernmental organization for the eight arctic countries: Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States.

The report is the result of a February meeting in Washington D.C., which drew more than 40 leading arctic scholars, government officials, industry leaders and representatives for indigenous people.

“The Institute has again provided guidance to the international community regarding the challenges and opportunities facing communities throughout the North,” said Mike Sfraga, co-director of the IACP and a vice chancellor at UAF. “I am confident this report will assist policymakers and stakeholders navigate the dynamic physical and political landscape ahead.”

The report’s specific recommendations include:

• Action from the Arctic Council urging the International Maritime Organization to adopt a mandatory code for ships operating in polar waters and regulations for safe operations of cruise ships;
• An arctic economic forum to promote public/private partnerships and help resolve issues, such as environmental pollution, involving private sector natural resources development;
• An information clearinghouse for public and private data on oil spill preparedness, prevention and remediation;
• More capacity for indigenous people and their organizations to research and develop a health care system tailored to their culture;
• Action from the Arctic Council that encourages cooperation among each nation’s militaries and coast guards in search and rescue and emergency/disaster response,  situational awareness for Arctic Ocean shipping safety and prevention of illegal activities;
• An Arctic Maritime Forum to share maritime information.

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