/ ©: WWF / Jim Leape

Arctic stewardship

A new Arctic needs new rules.
As climate change causes the Arctic's ice to melt and new areas to open up, the region is facing unprecedented changes and serious threats from increased activities such as shipping and oil and gas.

The ecosystems of the Arctic, particularly in the Arctic Ocean, transcend political boundaries. Ecosystems and migration patterns cross international borders, making collaboration among Arctic states essential for management and governance. The need to work together is intensified by the sparse population and limited resources of the region.


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What WWF is doing

Working with the Arctic Council

The Arctic Council is an international body that addresses issues that require circumarctic collaboration, like responding to oil spills, understanding the impacts of climate change, and developing common principles of responsible Arctic stewardship.

It is the primary forum for Arctic issues that cannot be managed by any single country. The Council also recognizes the critically important role of Arctic indigenous peoples, by creating a unique role for them as Permanent Participants.

WWF is the only circumpolar environmental non-governmental organization with observer status on the Arctic Council. This means WWF can attend Arctic Council meetings, propose projects, and present our views. We have an invaluable opportunity to collaborate with leaders and experts making critical decisions that will shape the future of the Arctic.
 / ©: Clive Tesar
Martin Sommerkorn presents the RACER project to the Arctic Council in Lulea, Sweden, November 2011.
© Clive Tesar

Assessing oil spill risks

As interest in offshore Arctic oil and gas development grows, the Arctic Council will be challenged to find a way to effectively manage the risks associated with this type of development. In the Arctic, a mishap in one state can quickly spread to other coastal states, making risk management a shared concern.

More about our work on oil and gas
Shell plans to begin drilling in the Beaufort Sea as soon as July 1 and expand drilling operations ... / ©: WWF
Shell ship.

Advocating for responsible shipping

Arctic shipping is on the rise, bringing new opportunities and risks to the region. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is finalizing an international code of safety for ships operating in polar waters in 2014, which would set standards for safety and sustainability for all ships in Arctic waters.

More about our work on shipping
 / ©: WWF / Bryan Alexander/www.arcticphoto.com
Shipping in the Arctic is already increasing. It brings with it the possibility of more jobs, but also potential dangers. The Northwest Passage route (over the top of Canada) would save two weeks in travelling time versus the Panama Canal, while the Northern Sea Route (over the top of Russia) is considered an even better bet in terms of its navigability. Although the routes will not be open year round, companies are already investing billions of dollars in tankers capable of going through ice.
© WWF / Bryan Alexander/www.arcticphoto.com

Who has a role in the future of the Arctic?

  • The 8 Arctic nations Iceland, the Kingdom of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Canada and the United States form the core of the Arctic Council, an international governing body for the region.

    Arctic peoples
    Over 4 million people live in the Arctic, and their livelihoods are directly tied to its future.

    Non-Arctic nations

    Countries like Singapore, China and the UK have an interest in Arctic routes and resources, and Arctic warming may impact weather and sea levels around the world.

    Shipping, oil and gas, and companies are drawn to the Arctic by the tremendous economic opportunities unveiled by melting ice. Meanwhile, the companies that insure such projects are taking stock of the risks of working in icy waters.

    Civil society
    WWF and other organizations are working to ensure that increased development is managed responsibly, for the benefit of people, wildlife and habitats.

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