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The Arctic is undergoing extraordinary transformations early in the 21st century. Natural resource development, governance challenges, climate change and marine infrastructure issues are influencing current and future marine uses of the Arctic. Increased economic activity together with the current retreat of Arctic sea ice presents several plausible futures for the Arctic’s regional seas, the Northern Sea Route, the Northwest Passage, and the central Arctic Ocean. Continued sea ice reductions will likely lengthen the navigation season in all regions and increase marine access to the Arctic’s natural resources.’
These changes represent both a challenge and an opportunity for governments and local Arctic communities. Of key significance are the effects of expanded marine activities on the cultures and well-being of Arctic populations, especially indigenous residents whose traditional way of life has been partially protected in the past by the very nature of the remote and extreme Arctic environment in which they live.
The Arctic Council, recognizing these critical changes and issues, at the November 2004 Ministerial meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, called for the Council’s Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) working group to “conduct a comprehensive Arctic marine shipping assessment as outlined under the Arctic Marine Strategic Plan (AMSP) under the guidance of Canada, Finland and the United States as lead countries and in collaboration with the Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response (EPPR) working group and the Permanent Participants as relevant.” The Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment, or The AMSA 2009 Report, was approved at the 2009 Ministerial meeting in Tromsø.
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The Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment is a direct follow-up to the Arctic Marine Strategic Plan which was adopted by the Arctic Council Ministers at the 4th Arctic Council meeting in November 2004. PAME was requested to: “conduct a comprehensive Arctic marine shipping assessment as outlined in the Arctic Marine Strategic Plan under the guidance of Canada, Finland, and the United States as lead countries and in collaboration with the EPPR (Emergency, Prevention, Preparedness and Response) working group and other working groups of the Arctic Council and Permanent Participants as relevant.”
Key Finding # 6 of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), also released in November 2004, is furthermore directly relevant to why the Arctic Council has called for this assessment: “Reduced sea ice is very likely to increase marine transport and access to resources”
This assessment is circumpolar in focus and promotes cooperation and collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders and relevant organizations and recognizes the importance of contributions from the broader maritime community.
AMSA Scenarios of the Future
The Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment Working Group (PAME) is one of six Arctic Council working groups. PAME was first established under the 1991 Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy and was continued by the 1996 Ottawa Charter that established the Arctic Council.
PAME is the focal point of the Arctic Council's activities related to the protection and sustainable use of the Arctic marine environment. It has a specific mandate to keep under review the adequacy of global and regional legal, policy and other measures, and where necessary to make recommendations for improvements that would support the Arctic Council's Arctic Marine Strategic Plan (2004).
PAME carries out activities as set out in bi-annual work plans approved by the Arctic Council on the recommendation of the Senior Arctic Officials. These activities led by PAME include circumpolar and regional action programmes and guidelines complementing existing legal arrangements aimed at protection of the Arctic marine environment from both land and sea-based activities. The Permanent Participants (Indigenous Organizations) of the Arctic Council participate actively in the work of PAME. PAME works in close collaboration with the other five Arctic Council Working Groups.
The PAME Working Group (WG) consists of National Representatives responsible for its work in their respective countries. Permanent Participants, representing Arctic indigenous groups, also participate in PAME, as well as representatives of several observer countries and interested organisations. PAME provides a unique forum for collaboration on wide range of Arctic marine environmental issues.
The PAME WG generally meets twice a year to assess progress of work, discuss program priorities and develop its biennial work plans.
The PAME WG is headed by a chair and vice-chair,which rotate among the Arctic countries and is supported by an International Secretariat. PAME reports to the Senior Arctic Officilas, and through them, to the Ministers of the Arctic Council that meets every two years.