Cooperation on Barents environmental hot spots

Cooperation on the Barents environmental hot spots started in 1995, when the first report "Proposals for Environmentally Sound Investment Projects in the Russian Part of the Barents Region" was published by the Nordic Environment Finance Corporation (NEFCO) and the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP). In 2003 the list of hot spots was updated, and it consisted of 42 hot spots in the Russian part of the Barents Region.

Hot spots are polluted environmental sites that pose a health risk to those who live near them or regionally, either because of direct impacts or the potential to pollute the atmosphere, drinking water or other parts of the food chain. Promoting environmental improvements and excluding hot spots from the list have been among the main activities of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council’s Working Group on Environment.

In 2003, the Foreign and Environment Ministers of the Barents member states set a target of launching environmental measures at all of the hot spots within 10 years by 2013. The BEAC Working Group on Environment has published the Assessment of the Barents Hot Spot Report, describing the current state of the hot spots. Akvaplan-niva AS, Norway, and the System Development Agency, Russia, prepared the assessment report with financing by NEFCO. The report was published at the BEAC Meeting of Environment Ministers held in Inari, Finland, 4 December 2013.

The stage of implementation varies
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. The measures were and are different by character — from elaboration of management plans to modernisation of industry or elimination of waste. The stage of implementation varies — from launched to completed improvements. Additionally, the investments made and needed differ in size of target area and environmental effect.

Since 2003, six hot spots have been excluded from the list. The first three were excluded at the Ministerial Meeting in 2011. These hot spots were the storage of obsolete pesticides in Karelia and Arkhangelsk and of mercury-containing wastes in Murmansk. In 2013 three more hot spots were excluded — Arkhangelsk heat and power plant, air emissions of the Kondopoga pulp and paper plant in Karelia, and mercury-containing wastes in Nenets.

Significant improvements
During the last years, significant environmental improvements have been achieved at several hot spots. Completed and ongoing activities include environmental modernisation in the pulp and paper sector and in municipal wastewater treatment in some major towns. There are also towns where the heating systems have been converted from fuel oil or coal to natural gas. The first steps in addressing waste management in a comprehensive manner have been taken in many regions and, in many places, people’s exposure to hazardous substances such as mercury, obsolete pesticides and dioxins has been reduced.

There has been significant financing in environmental investments by many companies without any external support. Some of the most advanced companies have introduced international environmental standards and management systems. Russian federal and regional programmes also provide funding, for instance, to improve the quality of drinking water and to clean up the accumulated environmental damage from the past. International financial institutions, like the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership and NEFCO, have eased the financing arrangements for some of the main municipal point sources of pollution. There are also success stories of the improvements achieved via bilateral cooperation programmes. In these cases, local funding and commitment has been the main driver for success in the projects.

Developing continues
Our work, however, is not yet done. The principle of environmental management is to aim towards continuous improvements. Companies have set targets on emission and discharge reductions. In addition, further efforts are needed, for example, to improve the quality of drinking water, and to develop waste management and environmentally sound treatment and final destruction of hazardous wastes. Special attention is to be paid to transboundary impacts, such as air pollution from the smelters in the Kola Peninsula.

To promote the environmental improvements at the hot spots, an active network has been built up between the federal and regional authorities both within Russia and between the environmental pollution experts in all of the Barents countries. This network has facilitated communications between the hot spot owners and authorities, as well as advancing the supervision activities.

All stakeholders (working group members, federal and regional authorities, hot spot owners) have shared a great deal of information, which has increased the knowledge of the environmental problems and solutions, as well as enhanced the capacity to introduce best environmental practices and best available technologies. It has been shown once again that the main driving forces for environmental improvements are raising awareness, creating effective legislation, along with its implementation and control, and a proactive approach by all stakeholders, including civil society.

Henna Haapala
Ministerial Adviser
Ministry of the Environment of Finland
Chair of the BEAC Working Group on Environment 2012–2013


Map by Arctic Centre


Photo by Ulla Ahonen / Ministry of the Environment of Finland

The 11th meeting of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council’s Ministers of Environment was held in Inari, Finland, on 4-5 December 2013. The meeting was hosted by Finnish Minister of the Environment Ville Niinistö.The meeting focused on environmentally contaminated sites, or “hot spots”, in the Barents Region, as well as on nature protection and climate change.

More information

Press release:
Three sites excluded from the Barents environmental "Hot Spots" list

Assessment of the Barents Hot Spot Report
- Describing the state of 42 original Barents environmental Hot Spots (English)

Assessment of the Barents Hot Spot Report
- Describing the state of 42 original Barents environmental Hot Spots (Russian)

Tackling environmental challenges in the Barents Region - a report by NEFCO and the Ministry of the Environment of Finland