Conservation of natural areas and climate change in the Barents Region

BPAN mapMinisters of the Environment meeting in Inari discussed conservation of natural areas and climate change in the Barents Region

Snowy mountains in Komi. © Jevgeny Izyurov Numerous high conservation areas in the Barents Region are still unprotected. New recommendations for expanding the protected area network were presented at the meeting of the Barents Euro-Arctic Councils Ministers of the Environment presented . The meeting also adopted the Action Plan on Climate Change for the Barents Cooperation.

Finlands Minister of the Environment Ville Niinistö hosted the meeting, held on 45 December, in Inari, Finland.

A new assessment of the protected area network in the Barents Region and recommendations for developing them were presented at the meeting. In the Barents region, 13.2% (231,600 km2) of the land area is currently protected. If the current plans for expanding the area by 59,400 km2 are successful, 16.6% of the total area would be protected.

The objective of the Barents Protected Area Network (BPAN) project, coordinated by the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), is to support the development of a representative and effectively managed protected area network across national borders. The Barents Region contains a significant portion of the worlds boreal forest biomes, along with unique and vast wilderness areas that are still in their natural state.

The BPAN project provided new recommendations for developing the protected area network. There is an urgent need to establish those areas of high conservation value, identified in national and regional nature conservation plans, as statutory protected areas. Special attention should be paid to the protection of natural forests and wetlands, especially concerning rare habitats, so the internationally agreed upon Aichi Biodiversity Targets for halting biodiversity loss could be reached by 2020. Additionally, the project has provided information about the regional level of protection, which varies greatly within the Barents Region, even within Finland.

The Green Belts of Fennoscandia and Lapland form corridors for species from the Gulf of Finland to the Arctic Ocean and from the Kola Peninsula to the fells of Sweden and Norway. The ecological corridors between protected areas should be safeguarded. The connectivity between protected areas is important because of climate change, as species must be able to migrate and spread in order to follow changing climate zones.

Action Plan on Climate Change for the Barents Cooperation

Niinistö expressed his concern over the effects of economic pressures and climate change on the northern nature. At the same time, the Barents Region also offers great opportunities for a green economy, for example, in renewable and clean energy production.

The cold climates and long distances of northern areas encourage people to come up with energy-efficient and smart technologies, said Niinistö.

The energy sector is very important to the region, and not only in terms of oil and gas. It might come as a surprise that wind power is one of the largest investment targets in Northern Europe, even surpassing the mining industry. Tourism that focuses on nature and natural values is also an economically important sector and employer in many areas.

The meeting of the ministers of the environment also adopted the Action Plan on Climate Change. The plan includes recommendations for concrete measures to be taken by the Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC) working groups in the areas of climate change mitigation and adaptation, research and communications. The Action Plan was prepared under the direction of the Committee of Senior Officials, working under the ministries for foreign affairs.

Yesterday’s meeting also resulted in the exclusion of three environmentally harmful hot spots from the Barents Region hot spots list. The Arkhangelsk Heat and Power Plant (Arkhangelsk District) and Kondopoga Pulp and Paper Mill (Republic of Karelia) have decreased their air emissions remarkably. A system for handling waste that contains mercury was established in the Nenets Autonomous District.

The BEAC Working Group on Environment published an assessment report describing the current state of hot spots at the meeting. According to the report, certain measures aimed at solving environmental problems have been launched at 42 out of 42 hot spots, though not all environmental problems have been solved yet.

Finland chaired the BEAC Working Group on Environment in 20122013 and the results of this cooperation were presented at the meeting. The meeting also approved the declaration that will guide environmental work in the coming years. The chairmanship of the Working Group on Environment was passed on to Russia.

During the Finnish chairmanship, the environmental work focused, in particular, on hot spots, nature conservation, clean production and sustainable development, water issues and climate change. The Barents Sea was not part of this cooperation.

Finland holds the chairmanship of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council in 20132015. TheMinistry for Foreign Affairs is in charge of the work. The priorities of Finlands chairmanship are economic cooperation, transport and logistics, the environment and climate change, and cooperation on issues pertaining to young people.

Additional information:

Henna Haapala, Ministerial Adviser, Ministry of the Environment,

Barents Protected Area Network: Anna Kuhmonen, Project Manager, Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE),

Press Release by Ministry of the Environment, 5.12.2013

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