The Top Issues for Arctic Council Action | WWF

The Top Issues for Arctic Council Action

Posted on
21 April 2015
At this week's meeting of Arctic Foreign Ministers in Iqaluit, the United States will assume the next two-year chairmanship of the Arctic Council - a forum on Arctic governance, sustainability, and environmental protection that includes all eight Arctic states and six Arctic Indigenous peoples’ representatives.

The Arctic has changed immensely since the Council first formed in 1996. Whereas record low sea ice extents were a worrying trend in 1998 at the first Ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council also held in Iqaluit, today they are the new normal. Warming in the Arctic is twice as fast as the rest of the planet, previously ice covered waters are opening to industry, and corporations from and outside the Arctic are moving to tap the region’s natural resources.

As the only circumpolar environmental NGO with observer status at the Arctic Council, WWF believes the Arctic Council member states must take bold new steps to meet the challenges of a new Arctic.

Focus on a "new Ocean"
Ominous new records in Arctic sea ice extent and volume have become a regular occurrence. A progressively more ice-free ocean is emerging in the Arctic. Arctic states must cooperate and take practical actions to protect Arctic life and minimize the risks of increasing industrial impacts.
Arctic states must:
  • Identify and protect marine areas of special ecological significance to improve biodiversity conservation through a representative Arctic marine protected areas network.
  • Design and adopt a legally binding regional seas agreement to enhance ecosystem health of the Arctic Ocean and coastal communities’ wellbeing.
Empower Arctic Peoples
Many Arctic communities are currently fully dependent on dirty, expensive fossil fuels to generate electricity, power their economies and heat their homes. The Arctic Council can help Arctic communities transition to community-scale renewable energy technologies as part of a plan to reduce the impacts and risks of development while increasing local and environmental benefits. 
Arctic states must:
  • Prioritize community-scale development including expansion of renewable energy projects that will substitute diesel and heavy fuel oil and truly benefit local peoples.
  • Develop a long-term (2030-2050) Arctic sustainable development vision based on downscaling of industrial projects and diversification of the Arctic economy.
  • Factor in the value of biodiversity conservation to improve human wellbeing in the region.
Act on Climate Change
At the first Ministerial meeting in 1998, the Arctic Council was mostly concerned with Arctic pollution issues and the related human health consequences which led to the 2001 Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants and the more recent 2013 Minamata Convention on mercury. Today, Arctic nations are facing an even more dynamic and complex set of problems related to the rapidly changing environmental, social and economic conditions of the region.
Arctic states must:
  • Work with observer states to drive the adoption of ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets in the coming climate negotiations in Paris.
  • Work with observer states to reduce local emissions of methane and black carbon.
  • Develop tools to improve the resilience of Arctic peoples and ecosystems to adapt to Arctic changes.
  • Identify all sorts of subsidies to hydrocarbon development in the Arctic and reallocate at least 50% of them to support renewable energy solutions for Arctic communities.
Read our full recommendations here.

 
Travel has become more perilous for northern peoples. Coastal sea ice, lake ice and river ice are highways for many northern peoples throughout most of the year. These highways have become unpredictable.
© WWF / Bryan Alexander/www.arcticphoto.com