The 2019 Arctic Council Conservation Scorecard

13 June 2019

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

Thawing permafrost, loss of sea ice, shrinking caribou herds, ocean acidification: the impacts of climate change in the Arctic are accelerating, and will continue to do so unless the eight Arctic states take bold steps to limit the pressures and stressors on the region through good governance.

To that end, the Arctic Council has made recommendations—and the 2019 Arctic Council Conservation Scorecard, an initiative of the WWF Arctic Programme, has evaluated how the Arctic nations are faring when it comes to implementing them. WWF engaged Ecologic Institute to conduct the research and analysis for the Scorecard. We spoke with ARNE RIEDEL, project coordinator and Arctic coordinator at Ecologic Institute in Berlin, for some insights into what the Scorecard reveals.

What is the Scorecard’s main purpose?

The Scorecard looks at how countries are doing when it comes to protecting biodiversity and ecosystems and preventing their harm from negative impacts generated by black carbon and methane emissions, oil spills and shipping. At its core, it examines the concrete actions Arctic states are taking in these areas to fulfill their responsibilities as the primary stewards of the region.

The Scorecard measures the states against recommendations they developed themselves within the Arctic Council’s working groups. Although the Scorecard can be critical, and aims to keep the Arctic states accountable, it is also meant to help states see where they may have information gaps and how they can fill them. I would sum it up as an exercise in cooperation that assesses how seriously the various countries are taking their commitments to protect the Arctic environment.

Which countries earned the best scores this year?

Overall, Sweden and Finland received the highest scores, but some indicators didn’t apply to them, since they are not linked to the Arctic Ocean. The maximum number of points they could score was lower than for Norway or Russia, for example. Still, they scored reasonably well on the other areas.

Which area still needs the most work across the Arctic?

I would say shipping. That area is about crafting national policies, reducing carbon emissions, looking at national measures and implementing technological standards, and we saw very little of that. I was surprised that so many Arctic states received their worst scores on shipping, because that’s where
they have the opportunity to be quite active, exert national influence and take national actions. But the shipping industry is big, and it can take time for measures to be implemented.

A positive surprise was that many states received high ratings on ecosystem-based management. But the recommendations (and thus the indicators) in this area focused on passing legislation, not [yet] implementation. We will need to watch future developments in this area closely.

What challenges did you encounter in developing the Scorecard?

One key challenge was communications—the quantity and quality of the information we received from states varied massively, and it’s difficult to have a Scorecard without complete information. Another challenge was that some of the states’ commitments are not very ambitious. We are measuring countries against recommendations they negotiated themselves, and some set the bar higher than others.

What is Ecologic’s take on the results? What do they tell us about the future of the Arctic?

Research shows us that there will be massive shifts in the coming decades when it comes to climate change impacts and biodiversity, and based on the results, the Arctic may not be able to adapt as quickly as it needs to. To take on these challenges, cooperation is key: cooperation among Arctic Council states and with Permanent Participants and observers supports informed and imple- mentable decisions. The Scorecards show, however, that national implementation is still lagging.

On the international level, recent developments have sent mixed signals. For example, the Arctic states recently agreed to refrain from commercial fisheries in the high Arctic for the next 15 years. On the other hand, it’s been difficult to see the US making bold, uncomfortable policy statements [such as at the ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council in Rovaniemi, Finland in May]. The Arctic has been a place of scientific cooperation and environmental protection for many years, and this should not be jeopardised.

What major take-aways does the Scorecard offer?

On balance, it shows that Arctic states still face many challenges. One is fighting for the implementation of international commitments at home,

where governments also have to con- front other important issues and work within budgets. Another is about the need to streamline the flow of informa- tion. When we reached out to the Arctic states for information, they sometimes referred us to six or more different people, which shows you how many departments are involved and, in some cases, how stretched their efforts are. To reach their goals, they will need to become more effective at collecting and sharing data.

What is the solution to these information-sharing problems?

Having an Arctic focal point is a proven strategy. There are even some non-Arctic states that have an Arctic ambassador, or at least dialogues between involved ministries. But even then, coordination and communica- tion among departments can still be problematic, especially with regards to setting ambitious environmental protection policies.

I think part of the solution for environmental departments is enabling civil society to engage in that discussion and increase the ambition level. Not all Arctic states are inclined this way, of course. I would also say the communications angle is important for transparency and should be tackled by Arctic states, so everyone knows what is actually happening on the ground. This may help develop creative ideas about how implementation can be expanded and improved.