Indigenous Peoples in International Environmental Cooperation: Arctic Management of Hazardous Substances


  • Henrik Selin is an Assistant Professor in the Department of International Relations at Boston University. His research focuses on global and regional politics and policy making on environment and sustainable development. He has published numerous journal articles and book chapters on international management of hazardous substances. Prior to his current faculty position, Dr Selin spent three years as a Wallenberg Post-doctoral Fellow in Environment and Sustainability at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    Noelle Eckley Selin is a postdoctoral associate with the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change and the Center for Global Change Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where her research focuses on atmospheric pollution and human health impacts. Prior to her current position, she developed and evaluated a global, 3D atmospheric model of mercury pollution in the Atmospheric Chemistry Modeling Group at Harvard University. She has also published articles and book chapters on the interactions between science and policy in international negotiations, in particular focusing on global efforts to regulate hazardous chemicals.

    The authors thank Sarah Busche for very valuable research assistance.


This article reviews the international legal framework on hazardous substances, with an emphasis on the Arctic and the roles of indigenous peoples. Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and heavy metals pose significant risks to Arctic indigenous populations, mainly through the consumption of traditional foods. Treaties of particular relevance include the Protocols on Heavy Metals and POPs to the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (1998) and the Stockholm Convention on POPs (2001). Arctic indigenous groups have exerted considerable influence on hazardous substance management through lobbying of national governments, participation in domestic and international scientific assessments, and direct advocacy in regional and global political fora. Their engagement on environmental issues has also helped to shape circumpolar consciousness and political activism among different indigenous groups. At the same time, there remain important limitations on the independent authority and ability to act of indigenous groups. Challenges for Arctic indigenous groups and States include continuing collaborative abatement work targeting many POPs and heavy metals, as well as addressing linkages between hazardous substances and climate change, which is another issue of great Arctic concern.