© Elisabeth Kruger/WWF-US

COVID-19 Open Letter to Leaders

21 April 2020

Governance Arctic Climate Change Pan-Arctic Oil and gas Communities

H.E. Mr. Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson
Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland and Chair of the Arctic Council
Sent via email, April 22, 2020

Dear Mr Þórðarson:

I reach out to you and the Arctic Council through this open letter at a defining moment in our lives. The extensive and sudden loss of life in the past few months from the COVID-19 pandemic exposes our collective vulnerability to such a deadly virus. But it also shows us the importance of global cooperation, science-based decision-making and precautionary approaches. There is still much uncertainty in the coming weeks, but as governments make plans to recover from the pandemic, they must carefully consider the well-being of people and nature.

The current pandemic and the accompanying, unprecedented economic crisis demonstrate the need to radically transform our relationship with nature. A return to “business as usual” is not an option. Humanity has come to a better understanding of our interdependence with nature. People around the world are experiencing the vulnerability of supply chains and the subsequent consequences for food and health security.

Nowhere are these vulnerabilities more apparent than in a place like the Arctic -- a region that deals with vulnerability and dramatic change daily. This rapid change is opening unprecedented opportunities for economic development in the region, but also a range of risks. The once-pristine Arctic has become a worrying stage for economic exploitation and growing military rivalry.

As Arctic governments navigate their way out of the COVID-19 crisis, they should consider adopting a green economic recovery in the Arctic by putting energy production, fishing, transport and infrastructure development on a sustainable path.

This recovery ought to be a just transformation that heeds the capacity of planetary life-support systems, embraces the protection of vulnerable people and communities, and supports species and habitats through ecosystem-based decisions. A green recovery can provide jobs to local people without breaking the balance with the local environment. A green recovery can advance the transition away from fossil fuels and expand the use of renewable resources, to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement.

By stewarding the Arctic towards a more sustainable future, as committed to in the 1996 Ottawa Declaration, Arctic leaders can ensure that its ecosystems and communities are more resilient to the challenges of today and into the future – from short-term health risks to the persistent and increasing threats of climate change. Such an opportunity for visionary leadership may not come again. As a long-standing Arctic Council observer organization, WWF is ready to assist you as we embark upon this historic transition; our national offices are ready to engage in discussions on designing specific measures for each of the Arctic countries.

Sincerely yours,

Dr. Peter Winsor
Director, WWF Global Arctic Programme