New Arctic Needs New Rules

From WWF International....

Copenhagen, Denmark - A new, warmer Arctic cannot continue to operate under rules that assume it is ice-covered and essentially closed to fishing, resource exploration and development and shipping, WWF said today as it launched a group of reports on protecting a newly accessible, highly vulnerable environment with profound significance for global climate, the global economy and global security.

The International Governance and Regulation of the Marine Arctic [PDF]  reports were launched as Russian president Medvedev visits Norwegian capital Oslo for talks which include arctic issues and just before the Arctic Council meets in Greenland.

“The melting of the arctic ice is opening a new ocean, bringing new possibilities for commercial activities in a part of the world that has previously been inaccessible,” said Lasse Gustavsson, incoming Executive Conservation Director for WWF-International and currently CEO of WWF-Sweden.

“What happens in the Arctic has a global environmental and economic impact. For instance, more than a quarter of the fish eaten in Europe comes from the Arctic, and yet we do not have effective rules for fishing in newly accessible areas.”

The Arctic may well be ice free in the summers within decades. Commercial ships have recently successfully sailed the Northern Sea Route above Siberia, and ship yards are getting more and more orders for tankers capable of dealing with remnant ice.

Accelerating oil and gas exploration is raising the prospects of Exxon Valdez scenarios - spills in highly susceptible environments in the absence of clean-up rules and infrastructure. A related issue is the impact on marine mammals and fish from noise generated by shipping and seismic activity to locate hydrocarbon deposits.

The first report (Overview and Gap Analysis) analyzes how today’s international legal regime meets the challenges posed by the unprecedented rapid change taking place in the Arctic. It concludes there are large gaps in governance and management regimes, with loopholes that could allow irreparable damage to the marine environment, its biodiversity and Indigenous peoples.

The responsibilities and mechanisms for keeping marine resource extraction within sustainable limits are unclear and so are the responsibilities and mechanisms for preventing or responding to pollution accidents and shipping disasters.

While the second report (Options for Addressing Identified Gaps) outlines the options, the third report (A Proposal for a Legally Binding Instrument) proposes a new arctic framework convention as a solution that could address the urgent gaps.

“We challenge arctic governments to advance alternatives that would work equally well to safeguard the region,” said Gustavsson.

“WWF shows that it is not possible to simply deny that problems exist, or to insist that there are already adequate responses to the problems.”

“We need a new comprehensive solution for the protection of the arctic marine environment. The ice has protected the Arctic Ocean for hundreds of years; we have collectively removed that protection though our contributions to climate change, and now we must work collectively to replace that protection.”

Online Resources

International Governance and Regulation of the Marine Arctic [PDF].  Three reports prepared for the WWF International Arctic Programme by Timo Koivurova and Erik J. Molenaar.  Includes:

I. Overview and Gap Analysis
II. Options for Addressing Identified Gaps
III. A Proposal for a Legally Binding Instrument


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