Understanding the science of climate change, helping to develop strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and safeguarding the Arctic environment are part of the EU’s wider efforts in relation to the Arctic.
The EU is committed to contributing to sustainable development in a balanced and integrated manner.
The EU engages in multilateral, regional and sub-regional cooperation on Arctic matters. Many Arctic matters relate to the Arctic as well as to lower latitudes.
Find out more about the Arctic.
EDU-ARCTIC focusses on using Arctic research as a vehicle to strengthen science education curricula all across Europe. It aims to encourage students aged 13 to 20 to pursue further education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), setting them on a path to perhaps one day work in one of these sectors.
The project will focus on developing, comparing and evaluating the effectiveness and environmental effects of different oil spill response methods in a cold climate. In addition to this we will be developing a system for the real-time observation of underwater oil spills and a strategic tool for choosing oil spill response methods.
EU-PolarNet is the world’s largest consortium of expertise and infrastructure for polar research. From 2015-2020, EU-PolarNet will develop and deliver a strategic framework and mechanisms to prioritise science, optimise the use of polar infrastructure, and broker new partnerships that will lead to the co-design of polar research projects that deliver tangible benefits for society.
The International Network for Terrestrial Research and Monitoring in the Arctic (INTERACT) aims to build capacity for identifying, understanding, predicting and responding to diverse environmental changes throughout the wide environmental and land-use envelopes of the Arctic. This is necessary because the Arctic is so vast and so sparsely populated that environmental observing capacity is limited compared to most other latitudes.
ICE-ARC will look into the current and future changes in Arctic sea ice – both from changing atmospheric and oceanic conditions. The project will also investigate the consequences of these changes both on the economics of the area and globally, and social aspects such as on indigenous peoples.
Building Bridges is the title of this year’s Arctic Frontiers Conference, a recognition of the strength that is gained by safeguarding the Arctic as a region of peace and a global example of cooperation in an age of growing tensions and worldwide uncertainty. Arctic Frontiers 2021 brings together decision makers, indigenous leaders, business and youth representatives to discuss the most pressing issues facing the Arctic. EU High Representative Josep Borrell participated in the second day of the conference that focused on 'Building the Future'. Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, participated on day four in a panel on the circular economy.
The European Union is committed to working with our international partners to make sure that the Arctic remains a stable, safe, peaceful and prosperous place.
“We believe that a safe, stable, sustainable, peaceful and prosperous Arctic is important not just for the Arctic itself, but also for the European Union and actually the whole world,” says Borrell. “The EU is in the Arctic and we have both strategic and day-to-day interests in Arctic matters.”
EU Envoy for the Arctic, Michael Mann, echoes the High Representative's words, adding that "We have three Member States, the Kingdom of Denmark, Sweden and Finland that are Arctic states. We are consumers of a great number of products that come from the Arctic. Fish, oil, gas... And in the future, particularly for the green transition, a number of minerals found in the Arctic will also be important."
The Arctic is a key example of why we need multilateral cooperation, as many issues affecting the Arctic regions can be more effectively addressed through regional or multilateral cooperation.
“Many of these issues are of fundamental relevance for geopolitical dynamics, for wider security concerns and for climate change – which regardless of the current pandemic remains probably the biggest global challenge that humanity is facing,” said Borrell.
There is a lot of attention on hard security issues and on great power competition for resources. Most tensions in the Arctic are, however, believed to be primarily linked to global geopolitical positioning. Arctic safety and security issues are relevant, but must be seen in a broader context.
Climate change is clearly the biggest threat the Arctic is facing. With the European Green Deal, the EU is pushing hard to reform its internal policies and to reach effective multilateral agreements to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. "But the EU accounts for only 7% of global emissions and we want to work with all our partners around the world, and not least the Arctic States, to reach the aims of the Paris Agreement," explains the EU High Representative.
"What better illustration is there of the need for the Green Deal than what is happening in the Arctic?", said Michael Mann.
Those living in the Arctic regions, in particular the indigenous peoples and the younger generation, know best why this is relevant and how important and difficult it is to balance these aims with the retention of jobs and benefits from economic activity in their regions.
The EU High Representative Josep Borrell concludes his intervention by recalling that the European Union is updating its Arctic policy this year, focusing on three key aims:
In this video message Michael Mann explains further why the Artic matters to the EU and to the world, and also speaks about his role as the EU's Arctic Ambassador. Learn more about the Arctic in his recent interview with Geopolitique.eu
Arcticness is a natural part of everyday life in Lapland. The people living in Lapland have adapted themselves and their activities to their environment and surrounding nature with a goal of becoming high level experts in Finland and in the EU on sustainable development of the northernmost regions. Smart and arctic knowledge, sustainable utilisation of natural resources and strong communities are the evolving competitive advantages of Lapland. Lapland is a melting pot of industries and it is one of Finland’s fastest growing regions with its backbones in forestry, mining, metallurgy and tourism.
“Lapland’s Arctic Smartness concept gives a shining example of how regions may successfully enhance their development activities and utilisation of EU resources. Dedication, cooperation across different sectors and strong common vision are the key ingredients,” said Kari Aalto, Director, East and North Finland EU Office. Read more
Using their traditional knowledge a reindeer herding community in Sweden mapped a 350km long reindeer movement route from the coast of Bay of Bothnia to Scandinavian mountains on the Norwegian-Swedish border. They provided the necessary basis for the planning of the North Bothnia train line and negotiated the construction of ecoducts (reindeer over-passes) on the E4 highway, which crosses this natural reindeer route. The Swedish Traffic Association also trained its staff in reindeer herding issues. Read more
On 19 August 2020, the world’s largest and longest polar research expedition – known as MOSAiC (Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate) – reached the North Pole. In September 2019, the German research icebreaker set sail from Tromsø, Norway, to spend a year drifting through the Arctic Ocean – trapped in ice. After leaving the ice floe it had been sitting in for the previous ten months, the icebreaker travelled through the Fram Strait and along the northeast coast of Greenland – a region that is usually home to thick, multi-year ice. Using radar satellite imagery and sea-ice data, researchers on board the vessel determined that the ice conditions this year were ‘lighter than usual’ and were able to complete their journey to the North Pole in just six days.
“Even though the conditions on the ice have been quite challenging due to the unusual weather conditions faced this year, first results have already revealed that warming events and associated changes of the snow surface can lead to an underestimation of the ice concentration – a major variable when studying the Arctic conditions,” explained Tânia Casal, Scientific Campaign Coordinator for the MOSAiC. Read more
Artic-based W-Power started in 2018 to overcome the challenges of remoteness and rurality faced by women entrepreneurs in sparsely populated areas, including Arctic and peri-Arctic areas such as Lapland, North Karelia, Northern Sweden, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland, encouraging these women to set-up, develop and grow their businesses. But COVID-19 demanded a rethink of the project’s approach to face new challenges.
Rachel MacNeill of Islay Whisky Academy, has had to halt her bespoke face-to-face whisky experiences on Islay. She has branched out instead into a new online whisky course (WHISKY AFFINITY ©) “The W-Power network has been a lifeline, before and since the COVID lockdown. It has helped me develop my approach to social media and online marketing. I do it all from home and it works around me,” Rachel said. Read more
The EU’s current Arctic policy, set out in a Joint Communication from 2016, is based on three pillars: fighting climate change and protecting the environment, promoting sustainable development and strengthening international cooperation.
In July 2020, the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) launched a public consultation with a view to updating its policy. Closed on 10 November 2020, the consultation helped to reflect more broadly on the new challenges and opportunities in the Arctic region, in light of the EU’s objectives under the European Green Deal and the EU’s International Ocean Governance agenda.
The consultation process involved a wide range of Arctic stakeholders, public and private alike, governmental and non-governmental, regional and local.
The overwhelming majority of responses to the consultation confirmed the continued relevance of the current Arctic priorities. What is clear from the consultation is that the EU has an important role to play in making the Arctic safe, stable, sustainable and prosperous, including through enhanced international cooperation. According to contributors the EU should
Against this background, the European Commission and the EEAS will re-examine the role of the EU in Arctic affairs and update the 2016 Joint Communication on an integrated European Union policy for the Arctic by the end of 2021.
Climate change and environmental degradation are an existential threat to Europe and the world. Global climate action still falls short of what is required to achieve the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Worldwide, greenhouse gas emission reductions have been recorded due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but this has not been enough to be considered sustainable.
The European Green Deal sets ambitious goals aiming to transform the EU into a climate-neutral, fair and prosperous society, with a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy. However, since the EU accounts for an 8%, and decreasing, share of global emissions, ambitious internal policy will not be enough. The Council calls for urgent, collective and decisive global action to hold the increase in the global average temperature to the Paris Agreement mitigation goal.
The Paris Agreement provides the indispensable multilateral framework governing global climate action. The EU welcomes the pledges made at the recent Climate Ambition Summit 2020 organised by the United Nations, France and the UK, in partnership with Italy and Chile, and calls on all countries to develop ambitious and detailed short and medium-term pathways, targets and policies that align with their long-term goals as a way of providing clear signals to citizens, political actors and businesses.
The EU urges all countries to also align their trade promotion, finance, aid and foreign investment strategies with their domestic climate pledges and Paris Agreement commitments, and to institute sustainable and climate sensitive economic recovery policies from the COVID-19 crisis.
The EU will work, as a matter of priority, with non-EU G20 and other major economies on climate change mitigation efforts. It stresses the need for ratification of the Paris Agreement by all who have not yet done so, and welcomes the declared intention of the new US Administration to re-join the Paris Agreement and looks forward to revitalising the EU-US Energy Council with an increased focus on energy transition and climate action.
The Council recognises that climate change and environmental degradation, including biodiversity and forest loss, are a threat to international stability and security, reinforcing disaster risks and pressures on ecosystems, posing challenges to food and water security, provoking local and regional conflicts while exacerbating the risk of the displacement of people, thereby constituting a major driver of humanitarian needs and threatening the effective enjoyment of human rights.
The EU will continue to support those most in need, seeking to limit and manage the risk of further loss and degradation through policy support, financing and an exchange of best practices, promoting, among others, nature based solutions. The EU welcomes, in this regard, the 2021 Climate Adaptation Summit that is currently taking place, hosted by the Netherlands. EU and Member States will work with partners, including the UN, to develop conflict prevention measures, such as early warning systems and support relevant international instruments, such as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.
The Council emphasises the importance environmental issues and climate change have for security and defence, and welcomes the Climate Change and Defence Roadmap: EU Actions addressing the links between climate change and defence, including in the context of the Common Security and Defence Policy, contributing to the wider climate and security nexus.
The transition of the energy sector, responsible for over two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions, is central to the path towards climate neutrality. EU energy diplomacy will aim – as its primary goal – to accelerate the global energy transition, while ensuring affordability, safeguarding the environment and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. To this end, in view of the need for a rapid shift toward climate neutrality, EU energy diplomacy will promote energy efficiency, the deployment of safe and sustainable low-carbon technologies, the increasing uptake and system integration – including through increased interconnections – of renewable energy, and the highest environmental, nuclear safety and transparency standards.
The EU will ensure that its trade policy and its trade agreements are consistent with its climate ambition. The Council acknowledges that the Commission has proposed, with the European Green Deal Communication of December 2019, to make the respect of the Paris Agreement an essential element for all future comprehensive trade agreements. The Council welcomes the initiative of the Commission in the WTO context to ensure multilateral trade rules support the global transition towards a climate neutral and resilient economy.
Investment into fossil fuel based energy infrastructure projects in third countries will be discouraged, unless fully consistent with an ambitious, clearly defined pathway towards climate neutrality in line with the long-term objectives of the Paris Agreement and best available science. The EU also calls for a global phase-out of environmentally harmful fossil-fuel subsidies including a phasing out of unabated coal in energy production and – as a first step – an immediate end to all financing of new coal infrastructure. The EU will support international efforts to reduce the environmental and greenhouse gas impact of existing fossil fuel infrastructure, including non-CO2 emissions, such as black carbon. In this context, the Council underlines the need to mitigate the impact of climate change in the Arctic region, which is particularly affected. In addition, the EU will pursue, as a priority, international initiatives on reductions of methane emissions.
EU diplomacy will scale up efforts to counter disinformation campaigns against the energy transition, within the EU and globally. The EU and its Member States will continue to support the uptake of the EU’s energy acquis, rules and standards, as well as further energy market integration and interconnectivity in line with the European Green Deal, particularly within the EU’s neighbourhood, including the Eastern Mediterranean. The EU will support the ambitions and efforts of countries in the Southern Neighbourhood, Western Balkans and the Eastern Partnership in tackling environmental, climate and energy challenges.
The EU will continue to address energy poverty, building, where possible, on the Team Europe approach. As a priority action, the EU will work with African partners in accordance with the Joint Communication “Towards a comprehensive Strategy with Africa” and develop a strategic and coordinated approach on the energy partnership with Africa, launching an African Union-EU Green Energy Initiative, which should support universal sustainable energy access ambition for Africa; as well as launching the “NaturAfrica” initiative to promote nature conservation, boost job opportunities and help tackle the illegal exploitation of natural resources and biodiversity loss in Africa.
The EU also underlines the importance of enhancing the voice and participation of young generations on policy and practice related to climate, energy and the environment, welcoming the “Youth4Climate: driving ambition” event to be hosted by Italy in September 2021.
The Council invites the High Representative and the Commission to reinforce further the external dimension of the European Green Deal, to make appropriate capacity available, and to strengthen – together with the Member States – coordination and information exchange through, among others, the EU Green Diplomacy Network and the Energy Diplomacy Expert Group. In the run-up to COP 26, EU Delegations and Member States’ Embassies shall increase their outreach and cooperation in a TEAM Europe approach, further projecting the EU’s commitment and leadership in this field.
From the annual global #EUBeachCleanUp, the #BeTheWave campaign that was launched last year, and joining initiatives to #MoveTheDate of Earth Overshoot Day, amongst many more, to funding projects for the mitigation of climate change, the EU is there to support climate action around the world. The stories below are testimony to this, but only reflect a very small window of the bigger picture of what the EU is doing. Although every action matters, the EU Green Deal aims to trigger more and more ambitious and concrete stories of global climate action to achieve the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement.
Belle Mare is a small village situated on the eastern coastal side of the island of Mauritius. Residents are mainly small planters highly vulnerable to a high incidence of pests and disease due to climatic conditions such as high temperature and humidity, and climate extremes, such as drought and high-intensity rainfall.
Fifteen small planters were selected and are beneficiaries of a project for the transformation of Belle Mare into a Climate-Smart Agriculture village, supported by the EU-funded Global Climate Change Alliance Plus (GCCA+). Each of them received water tanks, sprayers for biopesticides and tillers. The final goal is to set a trend to promote sustainable livelihood, enhancing national food security in a productive, climate-resilient, environment-friendly way that produces lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Read the full story.
Across Tanzania’s Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem, more than 1,350 environmentally friendly beehives – hanging from giant baobab and acacia trees – represent much more than meets the eye. Installed by members of Tanzania People & Wildlife’s Women’s Beekeeping Initiative, these environmentally friendly hives help to preserve habitats for big cats and other wildlife while generating a sustainable revenue stream for rural women. This project is a part of the EU-funded 'IUCN Save Our Species' African Wildlife initiative. Read the full story.
Imbabura, Pichincha, Cotopaxi and Bolívar are four provinces of the Ecuadorian Andes where agriculture generates around 26% of employment and represents more than 20% of the income of its inhabitants.
This is the scenario where the project "Andean Landscapes: Promoting the integrated management of landscapes for sustainable livelihoods in the Ecuadorian Andes" is implemented, seeking to improve the quality of life of the páramo communities, and responsibly manage the areas to avoid degradation of land and water sources. The project is part of a broader EU thematic program at global level for the environment and climate change. EU action for sustainable landscape management is linked to the Global Climate Change Alliance + GCCA + initiative that seeks to help developing countries face this challenge. Read the full story.
The EU, through the GCCA+ initiative, has funded the development of the first solar park in Trinidad and Tobago. The park is located at the North Terminal, Piarco International Airport and will be implemented by the Airports Authority of Trinidad and Tobago. The project celebrated its maiden milestone recently when the EU Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, Aad Biesebroek, joined the Chairman and the General Manager of the Airports Authority in a tree replanting ceremony. Read the full story.
“The times are really hard: due to the pandemic, I had challenges with selling my harvest this year. However, with the installed drip irrigation system, I was able to harvest and sell my melons even after all the other melon plots in the community ran out of produce,” stated Lali Sikhashvili, one of 700 farmers from all over Georgia who participated in training programmes organized by FAO in 2020 with the support of the European Union. Read the full story.
Ever imagined that the plastic bottle you've just disposed of could be someone's home...?
At 28, Tateh Lahbib Braïka is the designer and builder of a new concept of ecological construction, that is both resistant and inexpensive, thanks to plastic bottles. Tateh was raised in the Aousserd camp where he was nicknamed "bottle-crazy" by the other refugees. “My neighbors were amazed to see me rummaging through the trash cans to retrieve the bottles,” he says wryly. Like the vast majority of Sahrawi children, Tateh's school career began in the camps and continued in Algeria. He obtained a license in Renewable Energies from the University in Msila, and eventually he joined an Erasmus program, where he studied energy efficiency at the University of Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. Read the full story.
The Arctic, our planet´s icy last frontier for millennia, has recently become a hot spot in every possible way. Representing 6% of the planet’s surface, eight Arctic states -Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States- share an immense territory that is now at the centre of the geopolitical chessboard due to its economic potential and strategic importance. However, the Arctic is at the same time a fragile environment: home to over four million people –including 700.000 EU citizens and over 40 different indigenous ethnic groups-, it is warming at almost twice the global average rate, while its summer sea ice has decreased by more than 40% since 1979.
Concerned about this delicate scenario, the European Union is leading efforts to keep a safe, stable, sustainable and prosperous Arctic. The integrated EU policy for the Arctic focuses on three main priorities: advancing international cooperation in responding to the impacts of climate change and on promoting and contributing to sustainable development in the region.
“The Arctic is often not well understood. The image that comes to people´s minds is a polar bear on melting ice. What does not quickly come to mind is that you have vibrant cities and communities, industrial parks, universities…Therefore, saying that no economic development can take place in the Arctic is not an option. But we promote a sustainable development”, said the EU Ambassador at Large for the Arctic, Marie-Anne Coninsx, in a recent interview.
Yet beyond the abstract concepts, how does the EU Arctic policy look like on the ground? The EU Arctic Forum, taking place in Umeå (Sweden) on 3-4 October, offers a good opportunity to assess the recent developments and the challenges ahead. From trailblazing scientific research and Green Energy initiatives to Connectivity, support to Arctic SMEs and applied EU Space policies, dozens of EU-funded projects focusing on a wide range of issues are currently operating in the region. Here are five of the most representative examples of what the EU is doing in the remotest place on Earth.
The Arctic’s permafrost coasts make up 34% of the world's coasts. However, this permanently frozen submarine ground is warming up much faster than expected, with worrying consequences for our planet. As permafrost thaws, it is reshaping the Arctic landscape, affecting to local communities whose livelihood depends on marine resources, and releasing carbon gases that fuel global warming.
EU Horizon 2020-funded Nunataryuk project –a word meaning “land to sea” in Inuvialuktun, a native language from northwestern Canada- has brought together high-ranking European and international specialists of the Arctic coast to find a solution to this pressing challenge. Their main goal: to determine the impacts of thawing permafrost on the global climate and local population and develop targeted and co-designed adaptation and mitigation strategies.
Nunataryuk is part of the EU Arctic Cluster, a network of Horizon 2020-funded projects that currently involves 11 research initiatives addressing a broad spectrum of climate change mitigation and adaptation issues.
The European Commission's Earth Observation Program satellites have many applications, including some that are helping to maintain Arctic’s sustainable ways of life. Arctic indigenous peoples have practiced reindeer herding for thousands of years. Every spring and autumn, reindeer herders migrate with their animals hundreds of kilometres between their summer and winter pastures. However, climate change is turning the spring melt even less predictable, making it more difficult for them to find potential migration routes and areas where snow cover has already disappeared. Copernicus satellites currently provide reindeer herders with daily satellite-based snow cover maps that help them deepening their understanding of the changing Arctic.
At the same time, the EU is funding regional projects focused on Internet of Things (IoT)-based solutions to track reindeer herds, which have traditionally roamed freely the tundra and forests. Thanks to wireless collars wore by the animals, their owners can monitor their location and well-being in real-time.
The Arctic region and its shipping routes. Source: Arctic Council.
Elderly people aging in remote and sparsely populated areas in European Arctic regions face two challenges: long distances and limited resources. To tackle these obstacles, the EU-funded RemoAge project is supporting them with service packages that include family carers, healthcare staff and digital solutions offering direct, personalized assistance in their daily life.
The programme, set up in collaboration between partners from Sweden, Norway, mainland Scotland, the Western Isles, the Shetland Islands, Faroe Islands and Northern Ireland, is specifically targeted to frail older people, including those with dementia. RemoAge is one among the over 100 projects included in the Northern Periphery and Arctic 2014-2020 programme, supported by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
Being an entrepreneur in an extreme environment like the Arctic can be challenging. This is why the European Union funds several projects helping Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to develop and expand their business activities.
One of them is Northern Cereals – New Markets for a Changing Environment (CEREAL), a transnational cooperation project aiming to help farmers in remote regions to better adjust to climate change and increase sustainability to boost local cereal production. Warmer growing conditions, improved varieties and technologies, and growing concerns about sustainability are creating new opportunities for a greater cereal production in northern areas. Knowledge transfer among the partners -coming from Iceland, Northern Norway, Faroe Islands, Scotland and Canada- is crucial for a project that has already contributed to increase the numbers of farmers producing high-value cereal products in these regions, thus boosting local employment, incomes and consumer choice in rural areas.
Another example of a project supporting Arctic local economies is ARCTISEN -‘Culturally Sensitive Tourism in the Arctic’-, an EU-funded initiative that supports start-ups and SMEs offering innovative tourism products and services. Its main goal is to expand tourist interest in the Arctic, which will bring “unforeseen opportunities to maintain local livelihoods and lifestyles”.
Gender-aware-business support is another priority of the EU Arctic policy. The W-Power project, also part of the Northern Periphery and Arctic programme, counts with €1.3 million to support new women-led starts-ups across the Nordic and Arctic region.
Plastic fishing nets stranded in the rock in Norway. Source: Circular Ocean.
Declining Arctic traditional fishing communities are facing a threat to their way of life and beautiful wildlife: plastic fishing litter reaching their coastlines in ever-increasing quantities. What could be done? The EU-funded Circular Ocean project has come up with a solution: using these old plastic fishing nets and ropes, which represent 10% of marine waste, to develop smart ‘green’ industries. This waste is a potential resource for many industries, as it can be incorporated into different products, from clothing to skateboards.
The project, funded by the European Regional Development Fund, is contributing this way to clean up the environment and recycling marine waste while breathing new life into these remote Arctic economies.