© Chris Linder / WWF-US

Creating a better post-pandemic world for the Arctic

6 October 2020

This article originally appeared in The Circle: A Green and Just Recovery. The Circle shares perspectives from across the Arctic, and the views expressed here are not necessarily those of WWF. See all Circle issues here.

There are probably very few people on our planet who haven’t been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic—and it’s still not clear what the environmental, social, political, economic and health impacts will be in the months and years to come. While the world rushes to develop a vaccine, people everywhere are making efforts to strengthen their resilience and limit the effects of this novel, deadly virus.

One thing is certain: the world will be a different place when we emerge from the pandemic. The question is, what can we do now to ensure it will be a better one? This issue of The Circle attempts to provide some answers by delving into what shape the recovery could take in the Arctic, from tourism to food culture, health, investment, waste management and more.

WWF has ideas for a more resilient Earth. Based on nearly 60 years of conservation work around the world, we know that the health and well-being of people, wildlife and the environment are closely intertwined. That’s why in June 2020, we called for global action to reduce the risk of future pandemics and heal our broken relationship with nature.

We know that industrial activities in all parts of the world ultimately affect the Arctic because pollution and climate have no geographic boundaries. With this in mind, we continue to ask all governments to structure their recovery and stimulus packages in ways that support sustainability and prevent ecosystem degradation. This is important for conserving Arctic biodiversity, jobs and Indigenous livelihoods.

Arctic governments themselves should also be working to stimulate sustainable, low-carbon development as they recover from COVID-19. They have a unique opportunity to create the jobs, economies and societies of the future by prioritizing clean energy solutions, responsible tourism and improved water and waste infrastructure rather than subsidizing oil drilling or expanding maritime cargo transportation in and across the central Arctic Ocean.

Making the right choices for stimulus measures is important if we want to avoid another pandemic. The spread of zoonotic diseases like COVID-19 is closely linked with human encroachment on nature, trade in high-risk wild animals and reliance on unsustainable food systems that drive the large-scale conversion of land for agriculture.

Worldwide, the immediate priorities remain preventing outbreaks, saving lives and ensuring health systems aren’t overburdened. But countries are already rolling out strategies and programmes to restart economies, recover jobs and reinstate public services—and governments have launched packages worth trillions of dollars to help their societies return to a “new” normal. Some of these initiatives are heeding the call to address the ongoing nature and climate crises. Yet many others threaten to blindly pump funds into propping up outdated, polluting sectors that lack job security and worsen climate breakdown and nature loss.

Lockdowns and economic downturns during the pandemic have given us a taste of a world where the air is cleaner, waters are clearer and nature can thrive again. These changes are temporary and have come at a massive cost to society, but they have also offered us a glimpse of what is possible if we decide to “build forward better.”

As recovery programmes continue, all governments face a choice: reconstruct the economies of the past, or build a new and better world that heals our relationship with nature and strengthens our resilience against future threats. For the sake of the Arctic and all life on Earth, we are working hard to help them make the right choice.

ELIZABETH ACEITUNO is the acting finance practice lead at WWF International. She is based in New York.