The beginnings of the WWF Global Arctic Programme



Posted on 17 May 2011  | 
Peter Prokosch with Nenets children.
© WWFEnlarge
The WWF Global Arctic Programme (GAP) was started in 1992 when the political ice had melted. The former cold war had divided the Arctic into two halves. “Suddenly totally new opportunities appeared in the Arctic, and after many decades it became for the first time possible to think and cooperate in a circumpolar way”, says  Peter Prokosch, who was tasked with starting the GAP. “There was nothing in place in 1992 apart from different WWFs in six Arctic countries that were not much connected. They had different philosophies, different policies. It was a major job to bring them together into one circumpolar approach.”

But there was an urgent need for that focused approach. “Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Gorbachev was promoting the Arctic as a region of peace and environmental cooperation,” says Prokosch, now the managing director of GRID-Arendal, the Polar Centre of the United Nations Environmental Programme. “Finland took that vision seriously and invited all of the environmental ministers from the eight Arctic countries to Rovaniemi in 1991. Out of that, the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy was born.

In later years the same nations established the Arctic Council, making the Arctic region the largest on earth, where intergovernmental cooperation of the most influential countries focuses on environmental protection and sustainable development”.

When Prokosch started the WWF Arctic Programme, he corralled the six existing WWF offices in Canada, the US, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark with Greenland. WWF Russia was started shortly after that. He brought Iceland into the fold by connecting with the Icelandic Nature Conservation Association.

Prokosch’s vision was that the Arctic should become the leading region on earth demonstrating environmental protection and sustainable development in practice.

“By having well-functioning monitoring and scientific programs in place, dealing with a region with a limited number of people and economical interests and also less complex ecosystems and habitats than elsewhere, this should be the first region on earth where it should be possible to implement environmental philosophies and policies on the ground,” he says.

“These eight most developed and influential nations should be able to create the environmentally leading region, well connected to other parts of the world that others can learn from. The Arctic plays a major role in climate change questions. If you just take the white surface of snow and ice, it has an important function to reflect sun energy. The ice masses on Greenland are important in relation to global sea levels.”

But he says most importantly, in 2011, WWF policies and strategies should be challenging the Arctic nations to become world leaders in environmental protection and sustainable development issues.

“Lobby them, pressure them to show the rest of the world how the Arctic Council and the national governments are responsible and are leading environmental policies on earth."

The Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy

Heralded as “a major political accomplishment,” the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS) was an agreement among Arctic states aimed at environmental protection of the high north. It was adopted in 1991 by Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the USSR and the US to deal with monitoring, assessment, protection, emergency preparedness and response as well as conservation of the Arctic.

Three Indigenous peoples’ organisations became Permanent Participants: the Saami Council, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and the Association of Indigenous Minorities of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation. This was considered historic because it was the first time Arctic Indigenous peoples took part in an international declaration’s preparation process.

Two years later, Arctic ministers endorsed expanding the AEPS umbrella to also deal with sustainable development. In 1996, participants met for the last time and established the Arctic Council to continue its work although the AEPS remains a core strategy for the Council’s working groups. They include:

• Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP)
• Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF)
• Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME)
• Emergency, Prevention, Preparedness and Response (EPPR)
• Working Group on Sustainable Development (SDWG)
• Arctic Council Action Plan (ACAP)

Peter Prokosch with Nenets children.
© WWF Enlarge

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required