© Steve Morello/WWF

Norway to choose profit over the planet in Marginal Ice Zone decision

9 June 2020

KEYWORDS
Polar bear Arctic Climate Change Walrus Bowhead whale Norway Wildlife Oil and gas Communities Ocean

Updated, June 18, 2020

OSLO, NORWAY - A majority of Norway’s parliament is expected to vote against scientific advice next week in a decision that will reject greater protection of one of the world’s most important biological hotspots. Instead, Norway’s politicians have chosen to support the oil and gas lobby and allow for continued exploration in the Barents Sea.

Karoline Anduar, CEO at WWF-Norway said:

"This is a truly sad moment for nature and the Norwegian ocean management model. With this decision, Norway breaks with its long tradition of science-based ocean management, which the country proudly promotes internationally. Its credibility as a global leader in ocean protection is now lost. The fact that this happens as we celebrate the world’s oceans makes it even sadder."

The area where Arctic sea ice meets the open ocean is known as the marginal ice zone (MIZ). It stretches like a belt across the Arctic, thousands of kilometers long as the extent of the ice expands and retreats throughout the year. The area has supported unique biodiversity such as phytoplankton, zooplankton, fish, polar bears, birds, seals and whales for millions of years. This habitat is under growing threat from climate change and increased oil and gas development will add further pressure on this vulnerable area.

A majority of Norway’s parliament now supports a decision that keeps the boundary for the MIZ the same rather than adding 96,000 square miles as recommended by scientists. The government is praising this decision, as it includes a declaration that the MIZ will be a no-go zone for offshore development. But the reality is companies will still be permitted to conduct seismic surveys and mapping of the seabed for future oil and gas development -- activities that can be very harmful to marine mammals in an already threatened area. WWF sees this as the government capitulating to the oil industry.

Peter Winsor, Director, WWF Arctic Programme said:

This decision is shameful. By ignoring science, Norway is failing to provide global leadership on climate change and placing oil profits before nature. The Arctic Ocean is home to unique species of whales, birds and globally important fish stocks. Continued oil and gas exploration will put humans and nature at risk as the impacts of a rapidly changing climate in the Arctic increase.

The decision on the marginal ice zone is even more tragic, knowing that Norwegian politicians also agreed this week to increase tax benefits for the petroleum industry. Changes that include adding faster depreciation and an additional uplift to an already generous tax regime.

Continued petroleum development, particularly in the Arctic, contradicts Norway`s commitment to the Paris Agreement and a net-zero future -- 85 per cent of the world's proven resources must remain in the ground for humanity to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement. Norway must do better.

Last month, more than 1000 people acted to #SaveTheIceEdge by tweeting messages at the Norwegian government to stop the expansion of oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean. There is a growing awareness around the world that Norway’s reputation as a leader in sustainability must be scrutinised.

Update, June 18, 2020:

On June 18, Norway voted against science and decided to allow continued oil and gas exploration in the Marginal Ice Zone. WWF is extremely disappointed by this decision.

"The international spotlight needs to shine brighter on how Norway's actions align with its commitment to the Paris Agreement and Aichi Biodiversity Targets." - Nils Harley Boisen, WWF-Norway

For additional background and more information:

- Arctic lifeline could be cut by expanding off-shore oil drilling

- Life on the edge

- Making a difference for the ice edge

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

Marian Rui Slettebakken | Sr. Adviser Press and Communications, WWF-Norway | mslettebakken@wwf.no