Resilience-Building: a New Approach to Protecting Arctic Ecological Values
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The Arctic is not only particularly susceptible to climate change impacts, it is also the region where major ecological changes are already taking place at a faster and more dramatic rate than anywhere else in the world. While the mitigation of the climate change drivers has to be the key focus, mostly outside the region, climate change requires novel ways of management at multiple levels (species, activities, spaces, ecosystems).
The gaps in ongoing adaptation work as well as the lack of comprehensive approach in this context create a clear need for a conservation-minded approach, and an opportunity for WWF to spearhead that approach.
The Arctic is still one of the world’s largest, most valuable and pristine natural regions: 30 million km2 of marine and terrestrial ecosystems with enormous wilderness areas and many charismatic species, including migratory birds, the walrus, narwhal, whales, caribou, and polar bear.
The Arctic is also a key region for the global supply of natural resources, in particular fossil fuels and fisheries, and it is home to diversity of human cultures with a long history in these northern areas. Above all else, the Arctic is one of the most important areas for keeping the Earth’s climate system stable, an attribute we must maintain at all costs.
Direct threats to biodiversity in the Arctic include:
- Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing.
- Oil and gas development, processing, and transport.
- Mining and mineral processing.
- Habitat fragmentation.
- Nuclear waste disposal and contamination.
- Sport hunting, indigenous take, and poaching of polar bears and other species .
There is one single indirect threat that outweighs all other threats in the Arctic region: climate change. The Arctic is the first region in the world where climate change is producing rapid and visible large-scale ecological shifts, threatening the entire integrity of natural systems that have endured for tens of thousands of years.
The definition of conservation targets in the Arctic is far from trivial and has not been undertaken systematically by any organisation. The sheer size and diversity of the area makes the task daunting: ecological diversity (17 large marine ecosystems, more than 20 major vegetation associations), 8 nations, and importantly an unprecedented rate of change in many parameters of interest.
WWF's Arctic Network Initiative will catalyse a new approach to understanding and managing the northern quarter of the world, via a 4-pronged approach:
- Communicating the global implications of Arctic climate change (goal 1).
- Ensuring the Arctic biosphere does not become a new source of atmospheric carbon (goal 2).
- Eliminating the additional pressures on the environment caused by unsustainable exploitative activities (goal 3).
- Establishing "resilience" as the fundamental basis for Arctic management (goal 4).
The objectives of this project, Goal 4 of WWF's Arctic Network Initiative, are:
- Spatial planning (objective 4.1): “Resilience building” is including in all spatial planning and ecosystem management in the Arctic region.
- Arctic governance (objective 4.2): A new, comprehensive, governance regime is established for the protection of the Arctic environment and conservation of Arctic natural resources.
- New conservation approach (objective 4.3): A new conservation approach, based on the principles of resilience building, is accepted and implemented in the Arctic region.
- Vulnerable species and polar bears (objective 4.4): Conservation measures are designed and implemented to secure long-term viable populations of the polar bear and other key vulnerable Arctic species.
Establish “resilience” as the fundamental basis for Arctic management.
Resilience is the ability to absorb disturbances, to be changed and then to re-organise and still have the same identity (retain the same basic structure and ways of functioning). It includes the ability to learn from the disturbance. A resilient system is forgiving of external shocks. As resilience declines the magnitude of a shock from which it cannot recover gets smaller and smaller. Resilience shifts attention from purely growth and efficiency to needed recovery and flexibility. Growth and efficiency alone can often lead ecological systems, businesses and societies into fragile rigidities, exposing them to turbulent transformation. Learning, recovery and flexibility open eyes to novelty and new worlds of opportunity.