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Enviro Group’s 'Scorecard' Urges More Arctic Council Action on Conservation, Biodiversity

Tim Ellis/KUAC

The environmental organization World Wide Fund for Nature says the Arctic Council and its eight member nations need to do more to conserve the region’s ecosystems and promote its biological diversity. An official with the organization outlined those and other findings Wednesday at one of the many events being held at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in the lead-up to today’s Arctic Council ministerial meeting.

The Arctic Council is doing a good job overall in promoting conservation efforts to safeguard the Arctic environment, says Alexander Shestakov, the World Wide Fund for Nature’s Global Arctic Fund program director. But he says there are deficiencies and that the World Wide Fund for Nature will point those out periodically in its Arctic Council Conservation Scorecards, the first of which he presented Wednesday during a talk in Davis Concert Hall on the UAF campus.

“We developed this scorecard in a way to assist Arctic states,” he said.

Shestakov says the scorecard is based on a review of commitments made by the Arctic Council from 2006 to 2013. He says some of the commitments were inadequate, and some went unfulfilled due to the council failing to follow through with concrete, on-the-ground actions.

“We believe that Arctic Council decisions need to be more ambitious, (and) they need to be more measureable,” he said.

Shestakov cites the example of member nations’ doing a good job identifying important ecologically sensitive areas in the Arctic that require protection. But, he says, “At the same time, countries are really slow to put forward specific management regimes for those areas – and, especially, for marine areas.”

Credit WWF
WWF’s scorecard gives high marks to the Arctic Council and its member nations for taking steps to protect the region’s ecologically- and culturally-significant maritime areas from shipping. But it faults the council and its members for their slow response to reducing emissions and continued use of dirtier heavy fuels.

Creating and managing conservation areas is one of six so-called major assessment areas that the scorecard lists for both the council and each of its eight member nations. And that listing shows low scores for four of the nations, identifying it as one of the problem areas. Even lower scores are listed in the biodiversity and ecosystem-based management assessment areas for both the council and most of the member nations.

“As (a) conservation organization, the area where we can really focus on is more related to biodiversity,” Shestakov said.

WWF’s scorecard shows much more progress on the three other major assessment areas that are associated with industrial activity in the Arctic. They involve shipping, cooperation on oil spills and an assessment area that combines mitigation of black carbon, or soot, and promotion of climate-change adaptation. But even in those areas, the scorecard identifies shortcomings.

“Arctic Council is providing for some important adaptation measures, regional mitigation, for black carbon, while very often avoiding and not taking necessary, stronger and joint actions on climate-change mitigation,” Shestakov said.

Credit U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement
WWF's scorecard credits the Arctic Council and its member nations for adopting a binding agreement in 2013 requiring a joint, cooperative response to oil spills in the Arctic that may occur as a result of a tanker collision or blowout at an offshore oil platform, such as this one in the Cook Inlet.

Likewise, the scorecard faults the Arctic Council and its member nations for not pushing harder for additional measures to reduce emissions from shipping in the Arctic, such as a ban on heavy fuels that contribute to the black carbon problem.

As for oil-spills cleanups, he said, “Today, there are no reliable, effective and proven technology to deal with oil spills, large oil spills, in Arctic waters – at all.”

Shestakov says many, perhaps most of the problems the scorecard identifies are due to member nations failing to adopt the measures researched and recommended by the council. He says the scorecard accounts for the fact that the Arctic Council has no authority to compel nations to act. It operates on a consensus-based system in which each member nations’ representatives work with their respective national leaders to take action.

An Arctic Council spokesman said in an e-mail Wednesday evening that council officials are focused on today’s ministerial and don’t yet have a response to the scorecard.

Editor's note: The World Wide Fund for Nature was previously known as the World Wildlife Fund. The group change its name and broadened its mission in 1986.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.