Stories
© James Morgan/WWF-UK
Governance in the world’s smallest ocean

The Central Arctic Ocean is the world’s smallest ocean and is surrounded by Eurasia and North America. This ocean at the apex of our planet, is home to unique species that have nowhere else to go. As sea ice declines dramatically, many governments are eager to take advantage of the shipping routes and natural resources available in this vulnerable region.

Current governance structures protecting the Arctic Ocean are insufficient. New measures must be adopted to preserve the biodiversity of the Arctic Ocean and ensure sustainable use of globally important marine resources.

The IPCC SROCC report, released in September 2019, identified dramatic and rapid environmental changes in the Arctic due to the climate crisis. These issues are critical for the Arctic’s nature and people, and will impact the entire world as sea levels continue to rise.

But that doesn’t mean all is lost. We still have an opportunity to protect the Arctic Ocean and foster a sustainable blue economy in this region.

© Wild Wonders of Europe/Ole Joergen Liodden/WWF

What WWF is doing for governance in the Arctic Ocean

WWF works with Arctic states and communities, Indigenous Peoples and other key stakeholders to protect nature and ensure sustainable management of Arctic marine resources. WWF is also a long-term observer in the Arctic Council, the main intergovernmental forum in the Arctic.

Relevant Reports

Over a decade ago, WWF started a comprehensive review of the Arctic Ocean and commissioned three technical reports that examined and identified regulatory gaps in governance and analyzed options for improvement. Based on that work WWF issued a report, in 2009, that recommended a legally binding agreement for Arctic governance.

In a recent publication, David Balton from the Woodrow Wilson Center and Andrei Zagorski from IMEMO RAS, explore potential marine governance structures in the Arctic Ocean, Implementing Marine Management in the Arctic Ocean. This paper is part of an ongoing dialogue about the future governance of the Central Arctic Ocean facilitated by WWF’s Arctic Programme.

WWF continues to explore how best to support governance in the Central Arctic Ocean. There is an urgent need to improve Arctic High Seas governance as radical change and exploitation grows in the region. The main goal is to find a form of governance that will ensure stewardship, implementation of ecosystem-based management and sustainable development in the Central Arctic Ocean.

© Paul Nicklen/National Geographic Creative/WWF-Canada

Diving into a global discussion

There are important legal and governance gaps related to marine biodiversity in areas that fall outside national boundaries. For example, 20 per cent of marine area in the Central Arctic Ocean falls outside of national jurisdictions. Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdictions, or BBNJ, is an agreement currently under negotiation at the United Nations to help provide governance for biodiversity in such areas into the future.

WWF’s Arctic Programme recently hosted a global workshop around strengthening governance in the Central Arctic Ocean. The workshop discussed the reality that governance architecture in the Arctic Ocean today is inadequate given the rapidly changing climate and the fact that BBNJ is currently undergoing negotiations.

A new architecture for governance in the Central Arctic Ocean is needed. One that includes a scientific body designed to research and understand the Arctic marine ecosystem and create risk assessments and management proposals; and a marine management body with the mandate to act on proposals and create binding agreements.

© Elisabeth Kruger/WWF-US
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Implementing Marine Management in the Arctic Ocean
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