Assessing Arctic Pollution Issues

In its first assessment (1997/98), AMAP addressed six priority pollution issues identified by Ministers following the development of the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS). There were:

  • Persistent organic pollutants (POPs)
  • Heavy metals (in particular mercury, cadmium and lead)
  • Radioactivity/radionuclides
  • Acidification and Arctic haze (from SOx and NOx air pollution)(in a sub-regional context)
  • Petroleum hydrocarbon pollution (in a sub-regional context)
  • Stratospheric ozone depletion (and biological effects due to increased UV-B radiation)

In addition, AMAP was requested to assess human health effects of contaminant exposure. Further issues were subsequently added following AEPS and Arctic Council Ministerial meetings, including:

  • Climate change (environmental consequences and biological effects in the Arctic resulting from global climate change)
  • Combined effects of pollutants and other stressors on both ecosystems and humans

AMAP's first assessment established a baseline compiling information on the spatial distribution of contaminants in various media across the Arctic. In its second assessment round (2002) AMAP updated its assessments of POPs, metals, radioactivity and human health - evaluating temporal trends, and also produced an assessment of the effects of climate change on contaminant pathways. 

In 2006, AMAP produced an updated assessment of Acidification and Arctic haze (due to air pollution).

In 2007, AMAP produced a comprehensive assessment of oil and gas in the Arctic (including compilation and assessment of information on oil and gas activities, legislation concerning oil and gas activities in the Arctic, accidental releases (spills) of petroleum hydrocarbons and use and releases of contaminants associated with oil and gas activities, biological effects of petroleum hydrocarbons including human health effects, and ecosystem vulnerability to Arctic oil and gas activities).

In 2009, AMAP produced its third round of assessments of POPs, radioactivity and human health; and in 2011 its third assessment of mercury in the Arctic.

The findings of AMAP pollution assessments were the basis for the establishment of the Arctic Council's Arctic Contaminants Action Programme (ACAP), and AMAP has produced reports for ACAP inventorising pollution sources (including PCBs, BFRs, and obsolete pesticides) in the Arctic. AMAP reports identifying pollution hotspots in the Arctic have also been prepared for the Nordic Environment Finance Corporation (NEFCO) to guide their efforts to remediate pollution in the region.

AMAP assessments of POPs in the Arctic were used very effectively in the processes that resulted in the establishment of the UNEP Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, and the POPs Protocol to the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Pollution (LRTAP) and continue to contribute to the arrangements for adding new substances to these agreements and that evaluate the effectiveness and sufficiency of the Stockholm Convention and LRTAP agreements.

The AMAP heavy metals assessments were the basis for calls by the Arctic Council for an international agreement on mercury that led to the establishment of a process under UNEP to negotiate such an agreement. The AMAP 2011 mercury assessment contributed to the work under this intergovernmental negotiating committee that ultimately resulted in the agreement of the Minimata Convention on mercury in 2013. AMAP has continued to support UNEP mercury initiatives through work on global mercury emissions inventories and engagement in technical work to support UNEP global mercury assessments.

AMAP assessments of radioactivity in the Arctic have translated into international initiatives to address sources of radionuclides in north-western Russia, including decommissioning of nuclear submarines and radioisotope thermoelectric generators, safe storage of nuclear wastes, improved operations at Arctic nuclear power stations, and reduced releases of radionuclides from European nuclear facilities.