Online archive - find the most current content at

The EU’s Arctic Footprint

The EU is a relative newcomer to Arctic policy and may appear to have limited options for influencing the future of the Arctic. However, all Arctic States and neighbouring countries, including the EU, have a stake in the health of Arctic ecosystems and communities, as well as the sustainable development of new sources of economic growth in this region.

The EU, as a major consumer of Arctic resources and a significant contributor to Arctic pollution, can play a role in guiding the future of this region through a range of policy pathways, including stronger EU environmental laws, increased cooperation through multilateral agreements and international leadership.

Using a new methodology for assessing the environmental impact of one region on another, the EU Arctic Footprint and Policy Assessment project determines the EU's current footprint on the Arctic. It also analyzes relevant existing policies in nine distinct issue areas and presents policy options to inform decision makers about how the EU can reduce its environmental footprint in the Arctic. These results could serve not only to improve EU policies, but also to provide a model for countries that want to assess their environmental footprint on the Arctic or another region.5

EU Arctic Footprint

The results of the EU's Arctic footprint assessment are presented according to nine issue areas: biodiversity, chemicals, climate change, energy, fisheries, forestry, tourism, transport and Arctic livelihoods (see Figure 1). Within each issue area, the EU's share of each flagship indicator is shown as a percentage of the total global contribution to Arctic impacts. Lack of data prevented quantification of the EU's impact on forestry, transport and Arctic indigenous and local livelihoods. Further research is needed to address these information gaps.

Policy priorities to address EU Arctic impacts

Climate change is a driver in many of the policy issues addressed in this assessment. While the EU cannot address this challenge and its Arctic impacts alone, it can act as an international leader in emissions reductions and create pressure for the necessary reductions from other developed regions.

The EU is currently addressing many of the potential impacts on the Arctic environment, and is aware of the potential for more severe effects in the future. However, to decrease the EU's current and potential Arctic footprint, key policy gaps must be addressed. As concluded by the detailed analysis of each issue area, there are multiple Arctic impacts to which the EU contributes significantly (>35% of global contribution).

The policy assessment component of the analysis indicates that there are policies in place to address most of these impacts, both within the EU and globally. However, some of these major impacts are more completely addressed than others. Two important policy issues to address are: EU management of consumption-related impacts (i.e. EU imports from Arctic industries with high infrastructure-related impacts and SO2 emissions), and control of black carbon emissions.

The EU could effectively contribute to Arctic policy making and reduce its Arctic footprint by taking steps to develop an environmental strategy specifically for the Arctic, using multilateral fora and discussions to reduce the environmental impacts from imported goods and services, and adapting its policies to international standards in Arctic management. As the EU moves forward, it is critical to present a consistent message and continue to work with the eight Arctic states, and across sectors, to implement policies that promote sustainable resource development and protect the Arctic environment.

By: Sandra Cavalieri1, Emily McGlynn1, Susanah Stoessel1, Martin Bruckner2, Timo Koivurova3, Annika E. Nilsson4

1 Ecologic Institute, Germany
2 Sustainable Europe Research Institute, Austria
3 Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Finland
4 Stockholm Environment Institute, Sweden
5 This article is based on the final report from the Arctic Footprint and Policy Assessment (AFPA) project funded by the European Commission, Directorate General for Environment, contract EuropeAid/128561/C/SER/Multi.