“This is not a step forward for the council – this a great leap forward”, said Alexander Shestakov, Director of WWF’s Global Arctic Programme.
“It proves that leaders around the circumpolar world are capable of working together to meet a common need. The Arctic states will need to make several more such leaps to meet the challenges of an Arctic environment that is facing wrenching physical change, compounded by swift social and economic change."
Progress was also recorded on other key areas, with ministers of the US, Canada, Norway, Finland and Russia, Denmark and Greenland, Iceland and Sweden together with leaders of indigenous organisations, agreed to look further at ecosystem based management in the Arctic. Once in place, this system allows for better management of resources such as fish stocks that flow across international boundaries.
Steps hold a lot of promise
The leaders also agreed to take steps to assess change and resilience in the Arctic, which would be able to build on WWF’s work in identifying future areas important for conservation.
Lastly the leaders agreed to establish a task force aimed at developing a new international agreement on oil spill preparedness and response. WWF notes that oil spill prevention is not included in the mandate of the task force, which we believe is a glaring omission. While this will not stop new drilling for oil in the Arctic, it may go some way toward meeting WWF’s argument for a halt to drilling until there are proven technologies capable of effectively preventing or responding to spills in Arctic conditions.
“These steps hold a lot of promise,” says Shestakov. “The states must now deliver on that promise. The arctic is no longer a sleepy backwater, but a priority region for some of the richest and most powerful states in the world. If the Arctic states do not quickly and effectively regulate Arctic activities, they run the risk of allowing this unique place to be despoiled.”
Shestakov said WWF would have like to see stronger climate change commitments from the Arctic countries, as this remains the most urgent underlying issue in the Artic.
"We need to set the world on the path to an equitable and low carbon future, with the long-term goal of 80% emissions reductions by 2050 to ensure the safety, sustainability and prosperity of people, places and species," Shestakov said.
"We urge the Arctic nations to set explicit and binding national emissions reduction targets towards 80% reduction, and to implement ambitious action plans for adaptation and low carbon development."
The next Arctic Council ministerial meeting will be held in two years. WWF will continue to monitor and report on the Council’s progress on conservation issues, and will continue to offer its expertise and research.