Nagoya, 27 October 2010 - The Arctic is experiencing some of the most rapid environmental changes on the planet. Whilst this presents enormous challenges for conserving biodiversity, it also offers opportunities for enhancing cooperation between nations and reforming environmental governance to meet the challenges of the 21st Century, according to a new report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
The Arctic contribution to global biodiversity is significant. Hundreds of migrating species (including 279 species of birds and the grey and humpback whales) travel long distances each year in order to take advantage of productive Arctic summers.
However, evidence of warming in the Arctic is mounting year on year - with serious consequences for biodiversity. This year is no exception. One well-publicised impact of warming is the loss of habitat for species dependent on sea ice, such as polar bears.
But this is only one change. Across the Arctic, many habitats that are considered critical for biodiversity, such as the tundra, have been disappearing over the last few decades.
Launched to coincide with the 10th Meeting of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan, the report, entitled Protecting Arctic Biodiversity: Strengths and limitations of environmental agreements, was researched by UNEP's Polar Centre GRID-Arendal in Norway. The report underlines that although tried and tested solutions to the current biodiversity crisis in the Arctic exist in the region itself, important conservation gains will only be won if root causes originating outside the Arctic region are addressed.
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "We are currently witnessing unprecedented change in the Arctic, which will have important and far-reaching consequences not only for the region itself, but for the rest of the world."
The rapid changes in the Arctic are perhaps the most striking example of how interconnected our world is, and how policies in one part of the world can severely affect the environment, biodiversity and livelihoods in another.
The report finds that existing multilateral environmental agreements that include the Arctic region, such as the Kyoto Protocol or the Basel Convention on transboundary wastes, might be effective against threats caused by local, national, or regional activities (mining and oil and gas exploitation, for example) if adequately implemented.
This is because the fundamental threats to Arctic biodiversity, such as climate change, transboundary contaminants and habitat fragmentation are essentially global in nature. Tackling these threats will require identifying international agreements that are relevant to biodiversity, but in new, unconventional ways.
The report stresses that more global, cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary thinking by policy-makers, scientists and other stakeholders will be necessary to deal with increasing pressures on Arctic biodiversity.
Peter Prokosch, Managing Director of UNEP/GRID-Arendal in Norway, said: "Much could be gained by specifically targeting conservation efforts on selected Arctic migratory bird species. These species spend the winter in habitats outside the Arctic and, as a result, are severely impacted by the loss of harvest and habitat loss far beyond the polar regions."
The report recommends that the Arctic Council could play a more active role in supporting the development of specific conservation efforts and further collaboration with non-Arctic states that share responsibility for migratory Arctic wildlife. Established in 1996, the Arctic Council brings together governments and indigenous communities to address sustainable development issues in the region.
Given the importance of engaging non-Arctic countries and organizations in the protection of Arctic biodiversity, the report urges all stakeholders to identify and communicate the global impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss in the Arctic, and the relevance of the Arctic to environmental and economic thinking.
Lawrence Hislop, Head of the Polar Programme at UNEP/GRID-Arendal, said: "The report highlights the clear implications of how human activities around the world have a dramatic impact on the rapid change we currently see in the Arctic. The region acts as a mirror of our actions".
The report recommends strengthening existing mechanisms for the protection and conservation of biodiversity. It shows that there is a wealth of options, but that a lack of implementation of existing agreements is a prevalent problem.
The harmonisation of national reporting between the Arctic nations on issues of common concern is one such option. This would allow for more effective national reporting to multilateral environmental agreements.
Protected areas - such as national parks or marine reserves - are one of the most effective tools for managing Arctic resources. While increased action outside the Arctic is urgently required, the report urges Arctic nations to substantially increase the extent of protected areas, especially in coastal zones and in the marine environment.
The series of case studies and stakeholder contributions in the report highlight the importance of engaging local communities and Indigenous Peoples in ensuring the protection and sustainable use of biodiversity within the Arctic.
The report urges Arctic nations to invest in co-management regimes and programmes of adaptation for societies in the Arctic, drawing on their traditional knowledge.
Kathrine Ivsett Johnsen, lead editor of the report at UNEP/GRID-Arendal, said: "Arctic species can hold different economic, social and spiritual values for different people. Conflicts can arise when values clash, such as we describe in the case studies on seals and wolverines. The challenge is to reconcile conservation with the sustainable use of living resources".
Finally, it is hoped the Arctic Council will work towards an even more progressive role in ensuring the protection and sustainable use of the living natural resources in the Arctic.
The report identifies four major areas where Arctic states must strengthen further their funding, ambitions and activities, addressing both Arctic and global issues that influence the future sustainable management and development in the Arctic:
1. The Arctic region should strengthen investments in co-management and in supporting programmes of adaptation. However, a coordinated global approach is needed with actions required at all levels.
2. Arctic nations need to substantially increase the extent of protected areas, especially in the coastal zone as well as the marine environment.
3. Arctic states should increase the monitoring of Arctic biodiversity and further promote cooperation with non-Arctic states that share responsibility for Arctic migratory wildlife.
4. The Arctic Council should work towards an even more progressive role in ensuring the protection and sustainable use of the living natural resources in the Arctic, similar to its efforts in combating long-range transboundary pollutants.
Notes to Editors
The full report, Protecting Arctic Biodiversity: Limitations and strengths of environmental agreements, can be downloaded from www.grida.no/publications/arctic-biodiversity
The report includes high- and low-resolution graphics for free use in publications. Credits and sources for the photographs can be found at the back of the report.
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