© Brutus Ostling / WWF-Canon

Protecting the Arctic ecosystem as new ocean, blue economy emerge

26 November 2018

Governance Arctic Climate Change Pan-Arctic Outside the Arctic Shipping Oil and gas Communities Ocean

Nairobi, Kenya - A new report, Getting it right in a new ocean, launched today by WWF’s Arctic Programme is the first study of its kind to outline how the Arctic’s biodiverse ocean resources and economies can be developed to ensure long-term, economic and ecosystem health for the region and the planet.

The report warns that conventional approaches to development threaten the viability of much of the region’s distinctive ecosystems, undermining sustainability for communities and economies.

Released to coincide with the first global Sustainable Blue Economy conference - hosted by the governments of Kenya, Canada and Japan, in Nairobi – the report describes how a ‘new ocean’ is emerging as Arctic sea ice melts due to climate change and the profound impacts that will have on the region’s biodiversity and communities. Major economic development to exploit this trend - as much as US$1 trillion dollars over the next 15 years - could intensify many of the negative impacts on the region unless clear decisions are taken early to set a sustainable direction. The report offers guidance to governments and business on how sustainability can be achieved at this pivotal moment for the Arctic.

Dr. Simon Walmsley, WWF Arctic Programme sustainability director said:
“Climate change is making the Arctic more accessible than ever before. But the Arctic Ocean remains a remote, and risky place to do business. By starting from a premise of sustainability before potential massive development begins, we can help prevent the most negative impacts to this highly vulnerable ecosystem.”

The Arctic Ocean and its coastlines are home to 34 species of marine mammals, 633 species of fish and four million people including Indigenous Peoples and communities. Thus far, the vulnerable ecosystem’s largest economic sectors have included mining and oil and gas, services, fishing and resource processing but as the ice in the central Arctic Ocean shrinks, shipping and tourism are poised to become key sectors. For example, in just ten years, Iceland has seen a 400 per cent increase in tourism.

The report underlines the importance of ensuring any future development promotes a healthy, biodiverse Arctic that benefits all life in the region. The Arctic’s vulnerable coasts and marine species such as fish, seals and whales will increasingly come into conflict with industrial activities – such as shipping and seismic exploration – and may be harmed by invasive species, underwater noise and oil spills without proper policies in place. The creation of a pan-Arctic network of marine protected areas to allow species to respond, adapt and be resilient as they confront rapid climate change, would be an example of ecosystems-based management in action.

John Tanzer, WWF Oceans Practice leader said:
“It is a matter of great concern that climate change is altering the Arctic so rapidly, but we must take every opportunity now to apply what we have learned from advancing the blue economies of other regions of the world to get it right from the outset in this region. Clear guidance is needed which is why we urge governments, investors and industry leaders to commit to applying WWF’s Principles for a Sustainable Blue Economy and the Sustainable Blue Economy Finance Principles when making investment decisions in the Arctic. Arctic Indigenous Peoples and communities will be the most directly impacted by the consequences of development decisions and must be full partners in all processes where development decisions are being made.”

For further information
Leanne Clare | Sr. Manager Communications, Arctic Programme | lclare@wwfcanada.org

Notes to editors:

The report’s six recommendations are:

  1. Carefully consider and prioritize climate change risks when investing
  2. Preserve biodiversity in a warmer Arctic
  3. Fully integrate Arctic research and Indigenous knowledge in decision-making processes
  4. Focus on renewable resources to diversity Arctic economies
  5. Apply ecosystems-based management in the Arctic marine environment
  6. Improve Arctic governance to ensure sustainable development

The report calls on investors, businesses, governments and Arctic communities to consider the impacts of their activities and ensure sustainability is the guiding principle for decision-making by using ecosystems-based management and the principles of sustainable blue economies.

Arctic Blue Economy Principles in action:
This fall, several Arctic and non-Arctic nations agreed to prevent unregulated commercial fishing in the high seas of the central Arctic Ocean. The Central Arctic Ocean Fisheries Agreement is unusual because currently, no commercial fishing takes place in the area due to sea ice coverage. The Arctic coastal states of Canada, Kingdom of Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States, along with the major commercial fishing nations of the EU, Japan, China, South Korea and Iceland agreed to refrain from commercial fishing in the Arctic Ocean for at least the next 16 years. The countries also agreed to conduct scientific research required to better understand the marine ecosystems of the central Arctic Ocean. This agreement is an excellent example of how Arctic nations can lead the way by using a precautionary approach to protect biodiversity and ensure future sustainability of this globally important region.

About WWF
WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in more than 100 countries and territories. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. Visit www.panda.org/news for the latest news and media resources and follow us on Twitter @WWF_media

About the WWF Arctic Programme
WWF’s Arctic Programme coordinates WWF's work in the Arctic through offices in seven Arctic countries with experts in circumpolar issues like sustainability, governance, climate change, shipping, oil and gas and wildlife. For more information, visit our website at arcticwwf.org or follow us on Twitter: @WWF_arctic