Lack of consensus in Arctic Council risks the future of nature and people

7 May 2019

Governance Arctic Climate Change Pan-Arctic Communities

Rovaniemi, Finland – Arctic Foreign Ministers meeting today did not release a Declaration because they could not agree to collective action on climate change. This is the first time Foreign Ministers have failed to issue a Declaration, which generally sets the agenda for the Council’s work for the next two years.

WWF is deeply concerned that the failure to recognize climate change as a serious risk to the Arctic and its people will make it difficult to work at a pan-Arctic scale to address the urgent problem.

Ministers issued a Joint Statement in place of a Declaration that lacks detail and does not mention the single biggest threat to the Arctic: climate change. However, all Arctic states and Permanent Participant except the United States expressed their deep concerns about the climate crisis the region is facing. Most of the Permanent Participants shared the challenges their communities are experiencing as Arctic ecosystems transform resulting in decreased food security and a loss of culture and language.

Over the next couple of years, the global community has set important goals for itself in the areas of biodiversity protection, deep reductions of greenhouse gas emissions and responsible, sustainable development for the entire planet. Iceland takes over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council from Finland today, but it is unclear what collective contribution Arctic states will make to those global goals.

Dr. Peter Winsor, WWF Arctic Programme director said:
“Arctic states should be leading the way in the fight against climate change and the protection of biodiversity. The pace of climate change has outpaced the ability of the Arctic Council to take real action. We know that Arctic Council working groups are doing good work on many issues, but the block seems to come at the political level, where domestic politics becomes more important that achieving common global goals. Without deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions we will witness the extinction of millions of species on our planet. “

WWF calls upon states to reflect upon the original purpose of the Arctic Council: through increased circumpolar collaboration with each other and Indigenous People they can achieve a healthy, sustainable Arctic. WWF has been an observer to the Arctic Council since its inception in 1996 and for many years has called for states to reduce greenhouse gas emission to tackle climate change, protect Arctic biodiversity and ensure sustainable development in the region. Based on recent findings from WWF’s Arctic Council Conservation Scorecard, it is obvious that what is being agreed to at the international level is not translating into concrete actions at the national and regional levels.

The loss of sea ice is just one example of how climate change is negatively impacting nature and people living in the Arctic. For example, whales that live around the ice edge face many threats. Noise from industrial development can make it difficult for them to find food, communicate, and avoid danger. Oil spills affect their food sources and ability to feed. Whales often share the same routes as ships, and as shipping increases in the Arctic, so does the likelihood of fatal ship strikes or being forced from their normal habitat. Indigenous and coastal communities rely upon sea ice and marine mammals like whales economically and culturally.

Liisa Rohweder, Secretary General WWF-Finland and chair of the Arctic Programme:
“There are concrete actions that can be taken to stop biodiversity loss and the worst impacts of climate change, but states must be willing to act. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, and we know that irreversible change to habitats and communities is already happening. Some Arctic states are more progressive than others in their plans to meet Paris climate targets – they must help set the standard for the Arctic Council.”

WWF will remain an active observer to the Arctic Council and its working groups. Arctic states must provide the needed funding for Council’s working groups and the secretariat to effectively achieve their work plans.

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

Notes to editors:
The Arctic Council is the primary forum for Arctic issues that cannot be managed by any single country. For more than 20 years, Arctic Council member states have pursued conservation efforts to safeguard the Arctic environment.

The Arctic Council provides direction in the form of ministerial decisions, policy recommendations, guidelines, framework plans and binding agreements. Putting this direction into practice in each country is essential to good Arctic governance, greater environmental protection, and sustainable development in the region.

To encourage more effective, accountable and transparent governance from the Arctic Council WWF created the Arctic Council Conservation Scorecard. The 2019 Scorecard examines Arctic Council recommendations of crucial importance to the Arctic environment by focusing on the progress that has bene made by each individual government and highlighting where states need to work harder to fulfil their commitments.

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 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 and follow us on Twitter: @WWF_Arctic