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Arctic: MEPs call for peace and reduced tension in the region

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Parliament calls for constructive international co-operation in the Arctic while issuing warnings over emerging threats to stability in the region, PLENARY SESSION AFET.

 In a new report on geopolitical and security challenges in the Arctic, adopted on Wednesday, MEPs say that Arctic states and the international community should preserve the Arctic as an area of peace, low tension and constructive cooperation. The EU is committed to the long-term sustainable and peaceful development of the region, they underline.

In addition, the text emphasises that the current Arctic governance model, based on international law, has benefited all Arctic states and provided stability in the area.

Climate change and indigenous communities

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Members call on all countries concerned and the EU to respond to the deeply alarming consequences of climate change in the Arctic, including by sticking to the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The culture of the region’s Indigenous Peoples must also be preserved, MEPs stress. All activities in the area, including the use of natural resources, should respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples and benefit them and other local inhabitants.

Russian and Chinese activities in the Arctic

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Furthermore, the report expresses serious concern over the progressive Russian military build-up in the Arctic, which MEPs consider to be unjustified as it significantly exceeds legitimate defensive purposes. Any cooperation with Russia in the region should be consistent with the principle of selective EU engagement with the country, MEPs demand. It should not jeopardise the sanctions and restrictive measures adopted as a result of the Russian government’s actions in other parts of the world, they add.

MEPs are also greatly concerned by far-reaching Chinese projects in the Artic. The EU needs to observe closely China’s attempts to integrate the Arctic’s Northern Sea Route into its Belt and Road Initiative, they say, as this challenges the objective of shielding the Arctic from global geopolitics.

The text, approved by 506 votes in favour, 36 against with 140 abstentions, will be available in full here (06.10.2021).

“I would welcome an updated EU Arctic policy, which should continue to focus on issues related to local communities, in particular indigenous people. In our report, we also stated that the EU’s Arctic strategy must reflect the region’s new security reality, growing geopolitical tensions and new regional players, like China. We should be aware that we are not alone in the Arctic; together with our close allies the US, Canada, Norway and Iceland, we can build a prosperous and peaceful future,” said rapporteur Anna Fotyga (ECR, Poland) after the vote.

Background

Ahead of this plenary vote, a delegation of Foreign Affairs Committee MEPs visited Denmark, Greenland and Iceland on 21-24 September to discuss international cooperation and challenges in the Arctic with political representatives and officials.

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MEPC 77: IMO must rapidly cut emissions of black carbon from shipping

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As a meeting of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 77) opened on 22 November in London, the Clean Arctic Alliance called on the IMO, its member states and international shipping to protect the Arctic by implementing a rapid decrease in emissions of black carbon from shipping in, or close to the Arctic, and to urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions and black carbon emissions from the global shipping industry. 
 
Black carbon is a short-lived climate forcer responsible for 20% of shipping climate impact (on a 20 year basis). When black carbon settles onto snow and ice, melting accelerates, and the loss of reflectivity creates a feedback loop exacerbating global heating. Black carbon emissions from shipping in the Arctic increased 85% between 2015 and 2019.
“This week, the IMO must tackle the impact of black carbon emissions on the Arctic, by urgently putting in place strong measures to drive rapid, deep cuts to black carbon emissions from shipping operating in or near the Arctic, and to urgently reduce CO2 and black carbon emissions from the maritime sector globally”, said Dr Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance. 
 
“The Clean Arctic Alliance supports the proposal for a resolution submitted to MEPC 77 by eleven IMO member states that calls on ships operating in and near the Arctic to move from heavier, more polluting fuel oils to lighter distillate fuels with low aromaticity or other cleaner alternative fuels or methods of propulsion”, she added [1]. “If all shipping currently using heavy fuel oils while in the Arctic were to switch to distillate fuel, there would be an immediate reduction of around 44% in black carbon emissions from these ships. If particulate filters were installed on board these vessels, black carbon emissions could be reduced by over 90%”.

Recent IPCC findings show that the levels of climate ambition and timelines currently on the table for shipping at the IMO are totally inadequate”, continued Prior [2]. “It is imperative that measures due for adoption at the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 77) be strengthened to ensure they drive fast deep cuts in both CO2 and black carbon emissions from ships, especially those visiting or operating near the Arctic.”

NGO Statement:
On 18 November, NGOs called on the IMO to halve shipping’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and for IMO member states to urgently align the agency’s work on reducing climate impacts from shipping with the COP26 developments during MEPC 77 [3]. 
 
The statement called on IMO member states to: Align shipping with the 1.5° degrees target: commit to reducing ship climate impacts on a timeframe consistent with keeping warming below 1.5°, including reaching zero by 2050 at the latest and halving emissions by 2030;  Bolster short-term measures: reopen discussions on the level of ambition in the IMO’s short-term measure with a view to agreeing new targets consistent with halving emissions by 2030; Tackle black carbon: take decisive action to address the impact on the Arctic of black carbon emissions, a short-lived climate forcer responsible for 20% of shipping climate impact; and Set a GHG levy: agree a minimum $100/tonne levy on GHG emissions to raise climate finance and support a just transition to zero across the sector as called for at COP26More details here.
 
The IMO must halve shipping emissions by 2030
[1] MEPC 77-9 - Comments on the outcome of PPR 8 
[2] IPCC Report on Climate Crisis: Clean Arctic Alliance Calls for Black Carbon Cuts from Shipping
[3] NGO Statement: IMO must tackle impact of black carbon emissions on Arctic

About the Arctic and black carbon
Major shifts in climate occur more strongly and proceed faster at high latitudes with the most dramatic changes seen in the sea-ice cover of the Arctic Ocean. The summer sea ice cover is much reduced compared to only a few decades ago, and the remaining ice is about half as thick. Multi-year ice has declined by around 90%. Days with no summer sea ice could come as soon as the early 2030s, if the world fails to fulfil the Paris Climate Agreement’s commitment to limit global heating to less than 1.5C, which could have unprecedented consequences for the global climate and marine environment. 

Arctic shipping is increasing as reduced sea ice opens up access to resources, and interest in shorter trans-Arctic shipping routes grows. Despite global efforts, ships’ black carbon emissions are rising - black carbon emissions from shipping in the Arctic increased 85% between 2015 and 2019. When black carbon settles onto snow and ice, melting accelerates, and the loss of reflectivity creates a feedback loop exacerbating global heating. Black Carbon also has health impacts for Arctic communities. Reductions in black carbon emissions from shipping in or near the Arctic can be introduced rapidly by switching to cleaner fuels and have an immediate impact in reducing melting of snow and ice since the black carbon is short-lived and remains in the atmosphere for only days or weeks. 
 
How black carbon emissions from shipping have an impact on the Arctic
Urgent and immediate action needed to cut black carbon emissions from ships
Video

About the Clean Arctic Alliance

Made up of 21 not-for-profit organizations, the Clean Arctic Alliance campaigns to persuade governments to take action to protect the Arctic, its wildlife and its people. 

Members include: 90 North Unit, The Altai Project, Alaska Wilderness League, Bellona, Clean Air Task Force, Green Transition Denmark, Ecology and Development Foundation ECODES, Environmental Investigation Agency, Friends of the Earth US, Global Choices, Greenpeace, Iceland Nature Conservation Association, International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, Nature And Biodiversity Conservation Union, Ocean Conservancy, Pacific Environment, Seas At Risk, Surfrider Foundation Europe, Stand.Earth, Transport & Environment and WWF.

More more information click here.
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A stronger EU engagement for a greener, peaceful and prosperous Arctic

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The High Representative and the Commission have put forward their approach for a stronger EU engagement for a peaceful, sustainable and prosperous Arctic. The Arctic region is of key strategic importance for the European Union, in view of climate change, raw materials as well as geostrategic influence. The Communication responds to these geopolitical, environmental, economic, security and social challenges and opportunities. It seeks to forster cooperation with partners on sustainable approaches to overcome them.

The EU will establish a European Commission office in Greenland, which will raise the profile of Arctic matters in the EU’s external relations. EU funding will also be directed towards driving the green transition in the Arctic, for the benefit of Arctic populations.

Ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) and in support of global climate action, the Communication calls for oil, coal and gas to remain in the ground.

See also the press release, the questions and answers and the factsheet on a stronger EU engagement for a peaceful, sustainable and prosperous Arctic.

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Follow the press conference by Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius on EbS.

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MEPs want EU Arctic policy to better reflect security concerns

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While the European Commission is currently working on an update of the EU’s Arctic policy, MEPs are concerned about emerging threats to stability in the area, World.

Since the end of the Cold War, the Arctic has been a zone of peace and international cooperation, but in recent years the situation has changed. The region has witnessed an increased Russian military presence, while China aspires to integrate the Arctic’s northern sea route into its Belt and Road Initiative.

The Commission is re-examining the EU’s role in the Artic ahead of an integrated EU policy by the end of 2021. Parliament will debate and vote on its own report in Strasbourg next week.

The Arctic is home to half a million EU citizens from Finland, Sweden as well as Denmark through Greenland.

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“A shift in the perception of the Arctic is urgently needed as an increasingly tense international situation forces us to review our Arctic policy,” said Anna Fotyga (ECR, Poland),  author of the Parliament report.

The Arctic will no longer be a remote or inaccessible region, she said, but will in fact play a critical role in Europe’s future.

Arctic aggression

“The EU’s Arctic strategy must reflect the new security realities in the region, rising geopolitical tensions and new players such as China,” said Fotyga. “Moscow looks at the Arctic in the long term, striving to impose a series of legal, economic and military facts. In this way, it introduces global tensions to a region that we want to preserve as an area of peaceful and fruitful cooperation.”

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The report urges Russia to fully respect international law and to be mindful of the consequences of its actions. It also says that potential EU cooperation with Russia in the Arctic must not jeopardise the goals of sanctions against Russian action elsewhere.

License to drill

The increasing role of the Arctic in trade, navigation, environment and climate, issues related to local communities, in particular indigenous people, must also be taken into account,  said Fotyga.

There is growing interest in the Arctic and its rare earth mineral resources, which are crucial in the development of new technologies: both green and military.

“Europe must reduce its dependence on China for these minerals and the Arctic should play a central role in the European Raw Materials Alliance,” said the Polish MEP.

MEPs are worried that Russia and China will exploit the region without proper environmental impact assessment. China’s investments in strategic infrastructure projects and efforts to obtain mining rights are of concern as they are reminiscent of how the country operates in other parts of the world. MEPs therefore urge the Arctic states to carry out thorough screenings of foreign investments.

As China is developing icebreaker programmes, the report suggests that EU countries and partner countries could build icebreakers under an EU flag.

Fotyga, who was part of a Parliament delegation to Denmark, Iceland and Greenland in September, said Parliament wants greater EU visibility in the region, greater EU coordination, as well as cooperation with partners committed to respecting international law, developing peaceful cooperation and guaranteeing freedom of navigation.

Find out more 

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