Several international agreements deal with issues specific to the Arctic region or/and are particularly relevant for addressing various Arctic-related matters. These agreements have been shortly introduced here, in chronological order and with links to original texts (click on the title to be redirected to the full text).

The table ("click" to enlarge it, "right click" to download it) provides a quick overview on Arctic States' adherence to the above mentioned treaties.

Svalbard Treaty, Paris, 9 February 1920

The Svalbard Treaty was signed in Paris on 9 February 1920.

The treaty establishes Norway’s full and undivided sovereignty over Svalbard. Svalbard is part of the Kingdom of Norway, and it is Norway that ratifies and enforces the legislation that is to apply for the archipelago. Nevertheless, the treaty does include some conditions restricting the enactment of Norwegian sovereignty, and Norwegian authorities are required to see to it that Norwegian legislation and administration respect these conditions.

The 8 Arctic States are all parties to the treaty.

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The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, Washington 1946

The purpose of the Convention sets out the ability of the IWC to establish regulations "such as are necessary to carry out the objectives and purposes of the Convention and to provide for the conservation, development, and optimum utilization of whale resources. "The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling was signed in 1946 and it is the International Whaling Commission’s founding document (IWC).The Convention includes a legally binding Schedule which, amongst other things, sets out catch limits for commercial and aboriginal subsistence whaling. The Schedule is an integral part of the Convention, but its provisions, for example catch limits, may be amended by the Commission. In practice, amendments to the Schedule are almost always agreed at the Commission’s Annual Meeting" (https://iwc.int). All the Arctic States are part to the Convenion, but Canada, which by note of June 24, 1981, gave notice of Canada's withdrawal from the Convention effective June 30, 1982.

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Status of the convention

UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 1965

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) was adopted in 1965 by the UN General Assembly, and entered into force in 1969. With 175 state parties as of 2014, CERD is one of the most widely ratified human rights treaties. The CERD defines racial discrimination as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

All Arctic States are party to the Convention

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Status of the convention

UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), 16 December 1966

The ICCPR comprises all of the traditional human rights as they are known from historic documents such as the First Ten Amendments to the Constitution of the United States (1789/1791) and the French Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen (1789). However, in perfect harmony with its sister instrument, Part I starts out with the right of self-determination which is considered to be the foundational stone of all human rights (article 1). Part II (articles 2 to 5) contains a number of general principles that apply across the board, among them in particular the prohibition on discrimination. Part III enunciates an extended list of rights, the first of which being the right to life (article 6)." (http://legal.un.org/).

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Status of the covenant

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), 16 December 1966

The States agreed on the Convention "in accordance with the principles proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, Recognizing that these rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human person." Among the several key principles contained in the Covenant, particularly relevant, especially for the Arctic context, is the first art.: "1. All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development." The Arctic States have ratified the covenant, but the US, which has signed the Convention, has not ratified it.

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Status of the covenant

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES or Washington Convention), Washington, US, 1973

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.Because the trade in wild animals and plants crosses borders between countries, the effort to regulate it requires international cooperation to safeguard certain species from over-exploitation. CITES was conceived in the spirit of such cooperation. Today, it accords varying degrees of protection to more than 35,000 species of animals and plants, whether they are traded as live specimens, fur coats or dried herbs. All Arctic States are parties to the Convention.

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Status of the convention

Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears, Oslo (NO), November 15, 1973

The Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears was signed by the Governments of Canada, Denmark, Norway, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States of America, i.e., by the five nations with the largest polar bear populations. Concluded in 1973, the Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears and their Habitat (ACPB) was primarily developed as a response to commercial over-hunting of bears in some polar bear states, in particular the United States (Alaska) and Norway (Svalbard)(1). The ACPB principally sought to address this problem by banning hunting (Article 1(1)) and, in particular, banning hunting using large motorised vessels and aircraft (Art. IV). Under the Agreement, harvesting may still occur for scientific purposes, conservation purposes and in connection with the management of other species (Art. III(1)). In addition, and most importantly, the ACPB contemplated the continuation of harvesting by indigenous peoples where this was already occurring (Alaska, Russia, Canada and Greenland). [Nigel Bankes, Polar Bears and International Law, in Natalia Loukacheva (ed.) Polar Law Textbook II]. The treaty is also often considered as an early proof of Arctic cooperation, as back at the time (1973), due to the Cold War, US and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had little if any exchanges. However, they both signed the Agreement.

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The Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution, Geneva (Z), 1979

The Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution was the first international legally binding instrument to deal with problems of air pollution on a broad regional basis. It was signed in 1979 and entered into force in 1983. It has since been extended by eight specific protocols. The Convention is one of the central means for protecting our environment. It has, over the years, served as a bridge between different political systems and as a factor of stability in years of political change. It has substantially contributed to the development of international environmental law and has created the essential framework for controlling and reducing the damage to human health and the environment caused by transboundary air pollution. It is a successful example of what can be achieved through intergovernmental cooperation (http://www.unece.org/).

Status of the convention

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) Montego Bay, Jamaica, 10 December 1982

As the Arctic region consists of a large Ocean surrounded by land, the Law of the Sea bacomes particularly relevant in this context. UNCLOS, the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea, is an international agreement that outlines a comprehensive regime of laws clarifying rights and responsibilities of States in regards of the use of seas and oceans, and their resources. The treaty therefore regulates issues as navigational rights, territorial sea limits, economic jurisdiction, legal status of resources on the seabed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, passage of ships through narrow straits, conservation and management of living marine resources, protection of the marine environment, a marine research regime and, a more unique feature, a binding procedure for settlement of disputes between States.The US has not ratidfied the Convention.

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Status of the convention

ILO C169 Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, (ILO Convention No. 169 or C169), 1989C169 Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, (ILO Convention No. 169 or C169), 1989

Convention No.169 is a legally binding international instrument open to ratification, which deals specifically with the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples. Today, it has been ratified by 20 countries. Once it ratifies the Convention, a country has one year to align legislation, policies and programmes to the Convention before it becomes legally binding. Countries that have ratified the Convention are subject to supervision with regards to its implementation (www.iloorg). Among the Arctic States, only Denmark and Norway have ratified it.

Status of the convention

Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo convention), Espoo (FI) 1991

Environmental threats do not respect national borders. Governments have realized that to avert this danger they must notify and consult each other on all major projects under consideration that might have adverse environmental impact across borders. The Espoo Convention is a key step to bringing together all stakeholders to prevent environmental damage before it occurs. The Convention entered into force in 1997 (http://www.unece.org/). Among the Arctic states, Iceland, Russian Federation and US have signed but not ratified it.

Status of the convention

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, ((UNFCCC), New York City, US, 4 June 1992

The Convention was adopted at the United Nations Headquarters, New York on the 9 May 1992. In accordance with Article 20, it was open for signature at Rio de Janeiro from 4 to 14 June 1992, and thereafter at the United Nations Headquarters, New York, from 20 June 1992 to 19 June 1993. By that date, the Convention had received 166 signatures.

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Status of the convention

(UN) Convention on Biological Diversity, Rio de Janeiro (BR) , May 1992

Signed by 150 government leaders at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the Convention on Biological Diversity is dedicated to promoting sustainable development. Conceived as a practical tool for translating the principles of Agenda 21 into reality, the Convention recognizes that biological diversity is about more than plants, animals and micro organisms and their ecosystems – it is about people and our need for food security, medicines, fresh air and water, shelter, and a clean and healthy environment in which to live (www.cbd.int). Of all the Arctic States, only the US is not a party to the Convention.

Status of the convention

Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Kyoto Protocol), Kyoto, Japan, 11 December 1997

The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which commits its Parties by setting internationally binding emission reduction targets. Recognizing that developed countries are principally responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity, the Protocol places a heavier burden on developed nations under the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities." The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005. The detailed rules for the implementation of the Protocol were adopted at COP 7 in Marrakesh, Morocco, in 2001, and are referred to as the "Marrakesh Accords." Its first commitment period started in 2008 and ended in 2012 Canada withd

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Status of the convention

Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants​, 2001

As set out in Article 1, the objective of the Stockholm Convention is to protect human health and the environment from persistent organic pollutants.

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from chemicals that remain intact in the environment for long periods, become widely distributed geographically, accumulate in the fatty tissue of humans and wildlife, and have harmful impacts on human health or on the environment.

Exposure to Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) can lead to serious health effects including certain cancers, birth defects, dysfunctional immune and reproductive systems, greater susceptibility to disease and damages to the central and peripheral nervous systems.

Given their long range transport, no one government acting alone can protect its citizens or its environment from POPs.

In response to this global problem, the Stockholm Convention, which was adopted in 2001 and entered into force in 2004, requires its parties to take measures to eliminate or reduce the release of POPs into the environment.

All Arctic States are party to the Convention, but US, which signed but not ratified in 2001. The treaty does not apply to Greenland.

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Status of the convention

International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments, 2004

The Ballast Water Management Convention, adopted in 2004, aims to prevent the spread of harmful aquatic organisms from one region to another, by establishing standards and procedures for the management and control of ships' ballast water and sediments.

Under the Convention, all ships in international traffic are required to manage their ballast water and sediments to a certain standard, according to a ship-specific ballast water management plan. All ships will also have to carry a ballast water record book and an international ballast water management certificate. The ballast water management standards will be phased in over a period of time. As an intermediate solution, ships should exchange ballast water mid-ocean. However, eventually most ships will need to install an on-board ballast water treatment system.

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International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments is not yet in force. It will enter into force 12 months after ratification by 30 States, representing 35 per cent of world merchant shipping tonnage.

All Arctic states are parties to the Convention but Iceland and the US. The convention does not apply to Faroe and Greenland.

Status of the convention

Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic (SAR or Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement), Nuuk, Greenland, 2011

SAR is an international agreeement on search and rescue cooperation in the Arctic, signed by all the 8 Arctic States (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and the U.S) in Nuuk, Greenland, 12 May 2011, but has come into force in January 2013. SAR is the first ever legally binding document elaborated under the auspices of the Arctic Council and the first truly pan-Arctic legally binding document (the only other multilateral Arctic binding document, the 1973 Polar Bear Agreement, was signed by only five of the eight Arctic States – Canada, Denmark, Norway, the USA, and the USSR).

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UNEP Minamata Convention on Mercury, 2013

The Minamata Convention on Mercury is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury. It was agreed at the fifth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee in Geneva, Switzerland at 7 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, 19 January 2013.

The major highlights of the Minamata Convention on Mercury include a ban on new mercury mines, the phase-out of existing ones, control measures on air emissions, and the international regulation of the informal sector for artisanal and small-scale gold mining.

Minamata Convention is not yet in force (it will enter into force 90 days after it has been ratified by 50 nations).

So far (February 2016), only US among the Arctic States have ratified the Convention. All the other, but Iceland, has signed it (but not ratified).

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Status of the convention

Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic, Kiruna, Sweden, 2013

This second pan-Arctic agreement (signed by all 8 Arctic States) has “the objective  to strengthen cooperation, coordination and mutual assistance among the Parties on oil pollution preparedness and response in the Arctic in order to protect the marine environment from pollution by oil” (art. 1).Indeed, “each Party shall maintain a national system for responding promptly and effectively to oil pollution incidents. This system shall take into account particular activities and locales most likely to give rise to or suffer an oil pollution incident and anticipated risks to areas of special ecological significance, and shall include at a minimum a national contingency plan or plans for preparedness and response to oil pollution incidents. Such contingency plan or plans shall include the organizational relationship of the various bodies involved, whether public or private, taking into account guidelines developed pursuant to this Agreement and other relevant international agreements” (art.4.1).

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IMO – International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code)​ 2015

IMO has adopted the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code) and related amendments to make it mandatory under both the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL).

The Polar Code is expected to enter into force on 1 January 2017. This marks an historic milestone in the Organization’s work to protect ships and people aboard them, both seafarers and passengers, in the harsh environment of the waters surrounding the two poles.

The Polar Code and SOLAS amendments were adopted during the 94th session of IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), in November 2014; the environmental provisions and MARPOL amendments were adopted during the 68th session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) in May 2015.

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