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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 October, 2003, 17:47 GMT 18:47 UK
Millions pledged for Russian Arctic
By Richard Black
BBC science correspondent

The Kursk submarine, which exploded and sank in August 2000
Military activities have damaged the region, say environmentalists
A new international project to clean up the Russian Arctic was announced in London on Wednesday.

The $30m project will, among other things, make abandoned military bases safe, investigate the use of algae to clean up oil spills and involve indigenous peoples in environmental protection.

The Arctic is threatened by a number of pollutants, including poisonous heavy metals, radioactive leaks and run-off of industrial chemicals.

And the Russian shores are more affected than any other part of the region.

The new project is funded by international bodies and Western governments, and co-ordinated by a number of environmental organisations including the Advisory Committee on the Protection of the Sea (Acops).

Attractive opportunities

Its chairman, Professor Julian Hunt, said the clean-up was especially important for the Arctic's indigenous peoples.

He told the BBC: "There have been a great many nuclear installations that are now decaying; there has been a great deal of rapid oil exploration; there has been a great deal of mining - nickel mining; and the indigenous peoples of this area have suffered very considerably from this rapid exploitation."

The Arctic is an early warning system for the world.
Klaus Toepfer, Unep
The initial budget will be spent on a number of projects aimed at showing potential private sector investors how they could benefit from cleaning up pollution and investing in sustainable technologies.

One of these projects will use locally developed algae to "eat" oil spills. Another will investigate the use of plants to absorb radioactive metals from the soil.

According to Muzaffar Khan, vice president of Acops whose job is to get private companies interested in environmental matters, there are many opportunities in the Arctic which could prove attractive to investors.

"Private enterprise thrives on efficiency - it's our religion," he said. "This is a one-shot, one-time reward. With the involvement of the private sector, we will get it done."

Concern for all

The Arctic is especially vulnerable to environmental destruction as the natural processes which break down pollutants work much more slowly, if at all, in cold climates.

It is estimated that cleaning up the Russian Arctic will cost altogether around $40bn and a number of meetings are planned in North America and Europe to try to secure further investment.

Klaus Toepfer from the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) said the entire globe had reason to be concerned about the state of the region.

"The Arctic is an early warning system for the world. Its climate is changing twice as fast as the global average," he said.

"Pollution is concentrating in the Arctic. The Russian Arctic has been the scene of intense human activities - oil and gas extraction, military installations - and it's already a weak ecosystem."

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