Nordic citizens enjoy rich, untouched tracts of wilderness, pure water and fresh air, but we must keep a keen eye on our environment if future generations are to enjoy the same privileges. The Nordic countries have a long-standing tradition of working together on matters related to nature and the environment.
Many positive results have already been achieved, but they are not enough in a globalised world. We must not restrict our efforts to the environment in the Nordic Region – we must also address environmental issues in the Adjacent Areas, the Arctic, the EU and the rest of the world.
Nordic co-operation on environmental matters covers everything from health to the marine environment, outdoor life and sustainability. The idea is that environmental issues should not be seen in isolation but that they are part of a greater whole. For example, hazardous materials are not just considered from a public health point of view but also in terms of their impact on nature.
Hazardous chemicals and emissions are dangerous not only for the environment, but also for our health. As a result, the aim is that by 2020 there will be no products on the market or emissions from production processes that are dangerous to the environment or to public health. That is the highly ambitious target for Nordic co-operation on chemicals. Achieving it requires more in-depth knowledge of current chemical usage. Better databases and methods are needed to map hazardous chemicals. The results of this work will be used both in the Nordic Region and to provide input into international forums like the EU and UN.
The pollutants in the air that we breathe should not be at a level at which they are damaging to the environment or health. The emission of dangerous particles from industry, cities and the transport sector must therefore be reduced. The Nordic countries will provide input into international agreements and EU directives, and work towards tightening up the limits for emissions in a way that takes Nordic conditions into account.
Most people agree that outdoor life and physical activity are important for good health, but further study is needed to document this more fully. The Nordic countries place particular emphasis on acquiring up-to-date knowledge of physical activity among children and young people, and its significance for learning potential and motor functions.
The Nordic countries will also follow up on the work to protect the Arctic Region’s nature and environment. A strategy will be drawn up for action on, in particular, mercury, the climate and POPs – the common designation for many organic environmental pollutants that are slow to bio-degrade.
According to a wide-ranging 2004 Arctic Council report (ACIA)), it is probable that the consequences of global warming will be particularly detrimental in the Arctic. This is not just the case for the Arctic environment and its animal life, but also for health, construction, roads and other infrastructure. The climate in the Arctic is changing more rapidly than anywhere else in the world. The average annual temperature has risen approximately twice as fast as in lower latitudes in recent decades, and glaciers and sea ice are melting faster than previously expected. Less sea ice means that larger waves strike the coastline, which hastens the process of erosion. The area’s indigenous peoples will suffer major economic and cultural upheaval as a result of climate change. The Nordic governments will therefore study these consequences closely in collaboration with the Barents Council and the Arctic Council.
The Nordic countries are surrounded by enormous marine areas, from the Arctic Sea and the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Baltic and the North Sea in the south. All of the Nordic countries are dependent on the sea in one way or another.
Preserving and protecting marine life is therefore vitally important to the entire Nordic Region.
The Nordic countries have a joint objective of more sustainable management of living marine resources, as well as minimising the introduction of alien organisms that can damage the marine eco-system. They will work proactively to stop the addition of environmentally damaging substances, and to limit the environmental impact of shipping. In the Baltic Sea, in which algae growth is severe due to eutrophication, efforts are being made to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous volumes.
Work on the marine environment is done in close collaboration with international organisations like the EU and the UN, and provides input into international environment conventions.
The Nordic Region is home to more than 100 national parks that are governed by the laws of nature. We humans must tread carefully in these areas and ensure that we do not cause any harm. In 2008, Denmark opened its first national park, on the north-west coast of Jutland, and more are due to follow.
However, national parks make up a very small part of the Nordic Region’s huge natural areas. It is essential to protect, preserve and, if necessary, resurrect far more areas in order to preserve biological diversity for the future and counteract the current negative trends. Species, populations and their habitats are being lost. The Nordic governments therefore work together on generating knowledge, mapping threatened species and monitoring the risks posed by new, aggressively immigrating species, e.g. the king crab. The aim is to stem the loss of biological diversity by 2010 – so there is no time to lose.
The right of access, which grants citizens free access to nature, also includes natural and cultural environments in and around towns and cities. There is therefore a need to document the benefits of nature preservation in local communities in the Region. Work on sustainable tourism will also be prioritised for the benefit of local communities.
The Nordic Region strives to be a pioneer in the development of production methods that are clean, sustainable and use resources efficiently. Goods and services must not damage the environment or health at any point in the cycle – from production to waste disposal.
Discarded mobile phones are no longer as polluting as they used to be. However, the actual production of a single handset produces 75 kg of waste. With an average life span of just 18 months per unit, that means millions of tonnes of mobile-phone waste must be dealt with per annum. As a result, manufacturers are now investing heavily in recycling and reusing waste. Experience shows that it pays to recycle. “Waste is money” has become a catchphrase in this industry, which is particularly big in Sweden and Finland.
The mobile-phone example is just one of many Nordic initiatives designed to make consumption more sustainable. Another seeks to encourage both the public and private sectors to take environmental concerns into account in their procurement policies. In addition, the Nordic Region will continue to support and develop the joint Nordic Ecolabel.
The Nordic governments will work to meet the climate convention’s long-term target of stabilising greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level that minimises the impact of human activity on the climate and the world. In this context, the Nordic Region seeks a broad collaboration with as many countries as possible, especially the Baltic States and Russia.