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Arctic Yearbook 2012
25 Years of Arctic Environmental Agency: Changing Issues and Power Relations
Shifting Issues Regarding the Arctic Environment
In our retrospective over the past 25 years, we identify four main phases of changing perceptions
about Arctic-related environmental issues, namely (1) the phase of the Cold War, (2) the phase
immediately after the Cold War, (3) the phase after the Rio Conference on Environment and
Development, and (4) the most recent phase of the beginning of the 21
Environmental Issues During the Cold War: Distant Pollution, Nuclear and Military
During the Cold War, the Arctic was considered to be a remote and inhospitable place, sparsely
populated, the backyard of the superpowers accumulating armament and testing defense strategies.
This is for example the case in Novaya Zemlya, between the Barents and the Kara seas, where Russia
conducted numerous atmospheric and subterraneous atomic tests from 1955 until the 1990s and
where much nuclear waste was dumped.
On the other hand, the Arctic continues to be portrayed as a wild sanctuary of mammals needing
protection from regional hunters and international commercial interests. Among the global actors
constructing this image are the International Whaling Commission, which was already set up under
the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling (1946), and later the (International
Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission and its Polar Bear Specialist
Group (1968). In 1973, the five polar bear Arctic states, Canada, US, Denmark (Greenland), Norway
and Russia, signed the
International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears and their Habitat
According to the first Article of the Convention: “Parties shall protect polar bear habitat, especially
denning areas, feeding areas, and migratory routes; ban hunting of bears from aircraft and large
motorized boats; conduct and coordinate management and research efforts; and exchange research
results and data.” But the agreement allows for the taking of polar bears for scientific purposes, for
preventing serious disturbances in the management of other resources, for hunting by local
communities using traditional methods and exercising traditional rights, and for the protection of life
and property. Following this agreement each nation has established its own regulations and
conservation practices.
Since the early Sixties, the Arctic also became a “benchmark for global pollution” (Radke, Lyons,
Hegg & Hobbs, 1984). Travelers by air, sea and land started to observe so-called ‘Arctic haze’,
occurring regularly during the end of winter and spring. Geophysicists observed the concentration of
airborne Arctic aerosols
in layers above the ground. It was obvious that these pollutants came from