Federal Government releases new Arctic policy guidelines

30 August 2019

The German Federal Government’s recently released Arctic policy guidelines, which were prepared by seven Federal Ministries with an interest in Arctic-related questions, under the auspices of the Federal Foreign Office. The German Arctic Office, based at the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), provided professional support in this regard. For several years now, the Office has engaged in an ongoing ‘Arctic dialogue’ with the seven ministries involved, the goal being to optimise the exchange of information between those engaged in Arctic research and Arctic policy. At the same time, the dialogue helps the AWI to provide those federal ministries concerned with Arctic-related issues with expertise and international contacts in a more focused manner. Continuing and expanding this forum, which represents an important tool for knowledge transfer, are among the central duties of the German Arctic Office. In addition, the meetings, held twice a year, serve as a venue for formal and informal discussions alike between the representatives of the various ministries, and facilitated the formation of a joint Arctic strategy.

On 21 August the Federal Government approved the new ‘Arctic Policy Guidelines’, in which it declared its intention to pursue a consistent course of protecting the climate, environment and nature in this especially fragile region (see Figure 1). Accordingly, shipping in the Arctic, which leaves behind soot deposits on the ice and accelerates the loss of sea ice, is to be made more sustainable, and natural resources are only to be extracted in accordance with stringent environmental standards. In addition, the guidelines define the declaration of protected areas and sanctuaries to preserve the Arctic’s unique biodiversity, as well as the establishment of special zones with stricter rules for dumping wastewater or solid waste, or for reducing oxides of sulphur and nitrogen, as key priorities for the Federal Government. In order to promote the sustainable development of the Arctic, the precautionary principle and the polluter-pays principle are to form the basis of all environmental and economic policy.

Although Germany is more than 2,000 kilometres from the Arctic, the warming of the latter influences the climate and weather in our country and around the globe (for more information, see Figure 2). The Arctic is currently warming twice as quickly as the rest of the world, with consequences that are both far-reaching and dramatic. Glaciers are melting, the sea ice is retreating, and the sea level is rising. Wherever there is less ice to reflect the sun, the temperatures continue to climb; thawing soils, which release greenhouse gases, exacerbate the trend.

In addition, the transformation of the Arctic has woken new desires: shipping routes are now shorter, previously inaccessible natural resources can now be reached, and fishing activities can be expanded. Many current developments, and the extent to which they are the result of human activities, remain poorly understood. Potential strains on, or harm to, the Arctic environment must be intensively assessed in advance, so as to avoid or minimise them. Consequently, specialists from the Federal Environmental Agency, the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, and other German institutions share their expertise with the Arctic States in the Working Groups of the Arctic Council, the forum of the Arctic States, which works to ensure conflict-free international collaboration.

Nearly four million people now live in the Arctic, including ca. 10 percent who belong to various indigenous peoples. Some of them still practise their traditional way of life, in harmony with nature and its harsh conditions. Yet the growing commercial exploitation on the part of Arctic and non-Arctic countries alike poses a serious threat to the Arctic environment and the people who live in it. Habitats and animals like the polar bear are at risk; other concerns include air and water pollution, which have both global causes and consequences, and the exploration of resources like petroleum and natural gas.
Though the guidelines released by the Federal Government today do not include any direct legal obligations, they will shape the focus of Germany’s Arctic policy in various international negotiating forums, especially as an observer on the Arctic Council and its Working Groups. In addition, the guidelines provide a clear orientation for future research activities involving German experts, as well as the commercial activities of German companies in the Arctic.

For further information on the ‘Arctic Policy Guidelines’ please click here.

Article in REKLIM-Magazine:
Teleconnections: How the Arctic sea ice affects our weather

Dr Volker Rachold (German Arctic Office)
Dr Renate Treffeisen (AWI Climate Office)