Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety III
Chaired by Marine David (FR). Covered by Ela Bolčič (SI)
Life on thin ice: In light of global warming, scientists are concerned that thawing permafrost in the Arctic is unlocking diseases that have long been frozen. What measures should European countries take to prepare themselves against the emergence of lost infections?
Permafrost is soil that remains frozen for at least two years. It covers 24% of the Northern Hemisphere and is found in high-latitude regions like the Arctic. Permafrost serves as a preservation mechanism, entrapping pathogens for extended periods of time, from two to thousands of years. The pathogens, potentially preserved in ice for thousands of years, may have evolved and developed antibiotic resistance mechanisms. As climate change is causing permafrost to thaw at a faster rate, pathogens that have been frozen for years could hypothetically lead to transmission of zoonotic diseases from animals to humans through the food and water chain. The increased human presence in the Arctic region also increases the risk of contamination. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for improved preparedness and response to public health threats in the EU. Although the possible contaminations caused by the release of pathogens in permafrost remains hypothetical, it could however challenge the EU in its ability to respond to such public health threats.
Such public health threats would involve many stakeholders at different levels such as inhabitants from the arctic, Member states of the EU, EU entities and EU agencies, councils, and institutes, World Health Organization pharmaceutical industry and scientists. These stakeholders have already played an active role in preventing and control spread of diseases. Such measures include, for instance, the International Health Regulations at international level, the EU4Health program, the Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe, EU Vaccines Strategy or the EU's Early Warning and Response System () at the European scale.

How could the EU encourage further research about viruses in permafrost, protect local populations from contamination, and enhance cooperation to prepare for future pandemics.

Executive summary
Listen to the audio Topic Overview
Permafrost is soil that remains frozen for at least two consecutive years. Permafrost can also be made of soil that has been frozen for thousands of years. Today, it is estimated to covers about 24% of the Northern Hemisphere's land surface1 and is found in high-latitude regions like the Arctic. By freezing, permafrost acts like a kind of giant freezer, allowing pathogens, including bacteria and viruses, to be trapped and preserved there for years.

Over thousands of years, permafrost has naturally been experiencing a thawing process caused by changes in the earth's climate and temperature. However, increased greenhouse gases responsible for global warming have increased the rate of permafrost thaw.2 According to some scientists, increasing permafrost thawing could thus release old pathogens stuck in permafrost tens, hundreds, or thousands of years.

Some scientists argue that the release of pathogens that have been frozen for years, such as viruses, could trigger new epidemics and pandemics. As the Covid-19 pandemic underlined the unpreparedness of the EU and the world toward handling pandemic, how could the EU prepare to prevent and limit the effects of possible infections due to the lost viruses?
Article if you want to read about old viruses.
Next pandemic may come from melting glaciers, new data shows
Pathogens are microorganisms that can cause illness in humans through various means of contamination, such as direct contact with an infected person, contaminated food or water, or through the air.
 Annette Varani (2000). Frozen soils and the climate system. National Snow and Ice Data Center, earthobservatory, NASA. Link 
Unknown Author (2021). Climate Change Indicators: Permafrost. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Link 
Fundamental challenges
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global warming is due to human activities and increase of 1.5 °C will be reached by 2040 in all scenarios or even earlier if carbon emissions are not reduced in the next few years.3 The thawing trend due to global warming has been particularly pronounced in the Arctic4, due to a feedback loop of warming.5 Such a trend is thus increasing the risk of releasing pathogens that could lead to new pandemics.
A possible transmission of pathogens to humans
Arctic territories have been inhabited for thousands of years. In addition, the strategic interest of the Arctic is increasing human presence in the region. As of now the effect on humans of possible pathogens found in the Arctic remains unsure, an increase of human presence in the area nevertheless increases the risks of contamination. Indeed, the release of pathogens, such as viruses, could lead to transmission from animal to humans in the region of zoonotic diseases through the food and water chain. For instance, thawing permafrost could lead into infected water that could then be drunk by animals that could then get infected. Eating contaminated meat could then infect humans. In addition, growing plants on infected soil could also be harmful to human health.
Video if you want to know more about increase of human presence in the region
The race for the Arctic is ramping up. Here’s why
EU response to pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the field of pandemic prevention in the EU. The pandemic has highlighted the need for improved preparedness8 and response to public health threats. For instance, it has indeed emphasized the shortcomings in the pharmaceutical production chain in Europe: today, the continent depends in between 60% and 80% on China and India to supply itself with the raw materials essential for the design of medications.9 The pandemic has thus led to the implementation of a range of measures at the EU and national levels to improve pandemic prevention and control.

Despite multiple scientific studies, possible contaminations caused by the release of pathogens in permafrost and their possible resistance to antibiotics stays hypothetical. However, such epidemics and pandemics could anew challenge the European Union in its ability to respond to such public health threats.
Global warming increasing risk of releasing frozen pathogens
Preserved in ice for thousands of years, pathogens may have continued to evolve and adapt, including developing antibiotic resistance mechanisms. When permafrost thaws, these viruses could potentially be released and come into contact with living populations, including bacteria that may be resistant to antibiotics. By infecting these bacteria, they could transmit their own antibiotic resistance to them, which could make these bacteria even more difficult to treat.
For instance, in 2016, Russia went through an anthrax outbreak that affected dozens of people and killed 2,300 reindeer in North Siberia.6 A recent study published in 2022 supervised by scientists has analysed 12 different soil samples from different locations in the Russian Arctic and subarctic region. The study suggests that the melting of permafrost due to global warming could lead to the reappearance of microorganisms frozen for long periods of time. This would also enhance the spread of antibiotic resistance in bacteria, already a major public health concern.7
Zoonotic diseases are diseases transmitted between animals and humans. These diseases can be caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, and other pathogens.
What causes antibiotic resistance? Link 
The food and water chain is the ecological relationship between living organisms in an ecosystem.
 Matt McGrath (2021). Climate change: IPCC report is 'code red for humanity'. BBC News. Link
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  (2021). Climate Change 2021 - The Physical Science Basis - Summary for Policymakers. Link
Unknown Author (2016). The study of Earth as an integrated system. NASA. Link
Alec Luhn (2016). Anthrax outbreak triggered by climate change kills boy in Arctic Circle. The Guardian. Link
 S. Rigou, E. Christo-Foroux, S. Santini, A. Goncharov, J. Strauss, G. Grosse, A. N. Fedorov, K. Labadie, C. Abergel, JM. Claverie (2022). Metagenomic survey of the microbiome of ancient Siberian permafrost and modern Kamchatkan cryosols. MicroLife, Volume 3, 2022, uqac003. Link
Oceane Duboust  & Natalie Huet (2022). Europe’s medicine shortages: What we know about low drug supplies, from amoxicillin to paracetamol. Euronews. Link
Oceane Duboust  & Natalie Huet (2022). Europe’s medicine shortages: What we know about low drug supplies, from amoxicillin to paracetamol. Euronews. Link
Key stakeholders
The pharmaceutical industry, exercised by pharmaceutical laboratories and biotechnology companies, has a critical role in the development and production of vaccines and other medications that can help prevent and treat infectious diseases. They also conduct research and development to identify new drugs and treatments for infectious diseases, and to improve existing treatments.
Pharmaceutical industry
Scientists from academia and the private sector work to understand infectious diseases and develop strategies to prevent and control them. They conduct research on the transmission, pathogenesis, and treatment of infectious diseases, and contribute to the development of new vaccines and medications.
World Health Organisation
The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that is responsible for international public health. The WHO works with states to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, including pandemics, through monitoring and surveillance, risk assessment, and the development and promotion of guidelines and recommendations.10
International level
World Health Organisation (2022). About WHO. Link 
European Union (2022). Health. Link 
 European Council (2022). The role of the Council in EU's health policy. Link 
 European Commission (2023). Public Health. Link 
European Commission (2023). Health and Food Safety. Link 
European Commission (2023). EU Science Hub – science for policy. Link 
European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (2022). What we do. Link 
European Medicines Agency (2020). What we do. Link 
European Research Council (2022). ERC at a glance. Link
European Commission (2023). Horizon Europe. Link 
European Institute of Innovation and Technology (2022). Vision and mission. Link 
World Health Organization (2005). International Health Regulations. Link
European Commission (2021). EU4Health. Link 
European Commission (2020).  Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe. Link
European Commission (2020). EU Vaccines Strategy. Link
European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (2009). Early Warning and Response System. Link
European Commission. EU Pandemic Preparedness and Response Plan. Link
Key stakeholders
European level
Key stakeholders
National & Regional levels
Member states of the EU have primary responsibility for health care within their borders and play a key role in implementing EU public health policies. They also have their own public health agencies and systems that work to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, including pandemics, through surveillance, risk assessment, and prevention and control measures. Member states also participate in international efforts to prevent pandemics and collaborate with the EU on public health issues. When it comes to scientific research Member states also have their own research funding programs and initiatives..
Inhabitants of the arctic such as Indigenous people are at risk as they could be infected by the pathogens in melting permafrosts.
Read this executive summary if you want to know more about healthcare access in the arctic.
ENVI I - healthcare accessibility disparities in the Arctic
National level
Regional level
The International Health Regulations (IHR)21 are a legally binding agreement among WHO member states to prevent and control the spread of diseases. They require member states to report certain public health events to the WHO and allow the WHO to recommend travel and trade restrictions in the event of a public health emergency. On an European level, the EU4Health22 program aims to improve the health of EU citizens and strengthen health systems. It has a budget of approximately 4.4 billion euros and focuses on supporting member states in reforming and modernising their health systems, promoting vaccines and other health technologies, and enhancing their capacity to respond to public health emergencies. It also promotes the exchange of best practices and knowledge sharing on health issues.
The Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe23 aims to improve access to innovative therapies, support the development of new treatments, and ensure the sustainability of health systems in the EU. It includes measures such as regulatory simplification, accelerated assessment of innovative medicines, and efforts to reduce prices. It also promotes the use of cost-effective pharmaceuticals and supports efforts to reduce the burden of diseases on health systems.

Additionally, the EU Vaccines Strategy24 aims to improve access to vaccines and support their development and production in the EU. It includes measures such as funding programs, regulatory simplification, and efforts to reduce prices. It also aims to enhance preparedness and response to pandemics by supporting the development of vaccines and strengthening the supply chain.

Measures in place
The EU's Early Warning and Response System (EWRS)25 monitors and responds to public health threats in the EU. It is operated by the ECDC and includes mechanisms for collecting and sharing information on threats and coordinating the EU's response. It is designed to provide timely information and facilitate the rapid response to threats. Furthermore, the EU Pandemic Preparedness and Response Plan26 outlines roles and responsibilities in the event of a pandemic and includes measures to coordinate the EU's response. It also includes provisions to improve preparedness and support research and development efforts. The plan is regularly updated to ensure the EU is prepared to respond to emerging health threats.
Indigenous people of the Arctic are communities that have lived in the Arctic for thousands of years and have developed unique cultures, languages, and ways of life that are closely connected to the land and the natural environment.
As the Earth's temperature continues to rise and human acidity in the Arctic region increases, it is likely that more permafrost will thaw, potentially releasing pathogens that have been frozen for thousands of years. In this scope, it is important to consider how policymakers, pharmaceutical companies and scientists at all levels can cooperate to continue monitoring the permafrost and studying the potential risks associated with lost infections in order to better understand and mitigate any potential dangers. With that in mind, we have to ask ourselves: How can the EU encourage further research about viruses in permafrost ? How to protect local populations from possible contamination by such viruses? How could the EU prepare itself and enhance cooperation in regard to further pandemics?
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Motion for a resolution
Submitted by:
Elisabeth Bazil (AT), Harriet Economidou (CY), Adhemar Emmink (NL), David Gardelius (SE), Susan Jafarova (AZ), Varazdat Khachatryan (AM), Johanna Kosak (DE), Anna Kovacheva (UA), Pyry Nuottanen (FI), Juan Rodrigo (ES), Asia Smirnova (SI), Brock Stephenson (CH), Jasper Van Royen (BE), Marine David (Chairperson, FR)
The European Youth Parliament aims to prepare EU Member States, Arctic local communities and other stakeholders to adequately handle a possible pathogen outbreak locked within the Arctic permafrost. These aims are to be achieved through cooperation on public health policies, with the goal of preventing contamination and minimising negative effects caused by pandemics. It further aims to expand the scientific research on pathogens and permafrost, while integrating the knowledge and experience of Indigenous people,

A. Alarmed by the ongoing thawing of permafrost because of global warming,

B Aware of the hypothetical threats regarding pathogens being released from thawing permafrost,

C. Stressing the need for further research on the dangers of pathogens released from Arctic permafrost,

D. Alarmed by the risk of pathogens spreading through food and water supplies, potentially contaminating the groundwater, infecting crops and livestock, as well as spoiling soils,

E. Cautious that thawing permafrost can release pathogens with antibiotic resistance,

F. Concerned by the risk of horizontal gene transfers1 between lost infections and known pathogens,

G. Pointing out that the EU’s health care infrastructure may not cope effectively with another pandemic after having been weakened by the Covid-19 pandemic,

H. Acknowledging that 60-80% of the ingredients necessary for the production of medication are produced in China and India, highlighting the EU’s dependency on these countries,

I. Reminding of the negative socio-economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic,

J. Being aware of the difficulties in communication with inhabitants of remote regions in the Arctic,

K. Deeply conscious that disease outbreaks can generate waves of stigmatisation and discrimination against local communities,

L. Recognising that the preservation of permafrost is a cross-border phenomenon requiring international cooperation between all Arctic States;

1. Urges all EU Member States to prevent further permafrost melting by improving their measures against climate change;

2. Requests the Joint Research Centre (JRC)2 to investigate the hazards associated with pathogens in permafrost regions by:
a. focusing on regular testing on permafrost and samples of ice cores, water, air, and organisms in regards to new pathogens and their effects,
b. implementing a global database similar to the Secretariat of the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization Global (OPPO) database3, with a class system based on the effects of the various pathogens,
c. developing and improving early warning and response systems using the information from the above-mentioned database;

3. Encourages Arctic States to allocate adequate funding for building remote research centres, employing more scientists and developing training resources in the Arctic;

4. Urges Arctic States in cooperation with local Indigenous groups to ensure controls and testing of food and water supplies are enforced in their Arctic region, in accordance to national health laws, such as necessary vaccines for livestock and veterinary checks prior to slaughter on farms;

5. Recommends Arctic States to further develop annual reports on the status of wildlife within their territories covered by permafrost;

6. Urges the JRC to start the development of bacteriophages4 against pathogens locked in permafrost;

7. Encouraging EU Member States to prepare their health care systems for the possibility of future epidemics and pandemics by developing scholarships and funding medical programmes with the aim of attracting more people to work in the medical field;

8. Emphasises the need for cooperation between EU Member States and the European pharmaceutical industry to achieve self-reliance by:
a. subsidising domestic production and research using the EU4health Program5,
b. identifying new sources for active pharmaceutical ingredients within the EU itself;

9. Encourages EU Member States to improve their pandemic management by:
a. allocating more resources to their national pandemic funds,
b. improving the access to educational and mental health support programmes for their citizens;

10. Calls upon the Arctic Council to improve transparency in disease control and prevention by publishing annual monitoring reports;

11. Encourages the Arctic Council to establish a sub-committee composed of policy-makers and scientists from all Arctic States to permanently cooperate on all issues regarding the preservation of melting Arctic permafrost.
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Movement of genetic information between organisms, a process that includes the spread of antibiotic resistance genes among bacteria (except for those from parent to offspring), fuelling pathogen evolution.
Provides independent, evidence-based science and knowledge, supporting EU policies to positively impact society.
Constantly updated database, aiming to provide all pest-specific information that has been produced or collected by the EPPO.
A virus which parasitizes a bacterium by infecting it and reproducing inside it. Bacteriophages are much used in genetic research.
Aims to improve the health of EU citizens and strengthen health systems. It has a budget of approximately 4.4 billion euros and focuses on supporting member states in reforming and modernising their health systems, promoting vaccines and other health technologies, and enhancing their capacity to respond to public health emergencies. It also promotes the exchange of best practices and knowledge sharing on health issues.
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