UN environment agency urges better management of Arctic change
"The melting of ice is prompting a rush for exactly the fossil fuel resources that fuelled the melt"
The world needs to slow down, back away from exploiting the Arctic’s resources and focus more on how to best manage the rapid change in the Arctic, says the United Nations Environment Programme.
That’s the message from UNEP’s 2013 Year Book, a summary of the challenges facing the world, released this week at an international meeting of environment ministers get underway in Nairobi, Kenya.
“Changing environmental conditions in the Arctic – often considered a bellwether for global climate change – have been an issue of concern for some time, but as of yet this awareness has not translated into urgent action,” said Achim Steiner, UN under-secretary-general and UNEP executive director, in a news release.
“In fact, what we are seeing is that the melting of ice is prompting a rush for exactly the fossil fuel resources that fuelled the melt in the first place,” he added.
“As the UNEP Year Book 2013 points out, the rush to exploit these vast untapped reserves have consequences that must be carefully thought through by countries everywhere, given the global impacts and issues at stake.”
Curbing heat-producing greenhouse gas emissions “remains critical,” UNEP says.
But other issues are also in need of attention, such as “the importance of the Arctic in supplying the world with energy and minerals,” which UNEP says is expected to trigger the construction of roads, ports and new settlements.
And there is likely to be a boom in fisheries, with one study cited by UNEP predicting that by 2055 fish catches in the high latitudes, including the Arctic, could increase by 30 to 70 per cent.
But the fisheries management in the Arctic is not up to the task of either managing conflicts or protecting stocks, UNEP says.
“As ecosystems change and economic opportunities are pursued, there is an urgent need to reassess fisheries management in the Arctic,” its 2013 Year Book report states.
Overall, the report calls for a better understanding of the impacts and potential risks of changes ahead.
“To avoid irreversible damage to this fragile environment, a precautionary approach to economic development is warranted,” it says.
Along with a more thoughtful approach to development, UNEP says the need for “improved governance is all the more crucial now” in areas such as maritime trade and shipping, tourism, commercial fisheries, and oil, gas and minerals.
“The challenges posed by climate change and social and economic development in the Arctic require a long-term vision and innovative policy responses,” it says.
The report makes many recommendations to tackle issues, including:
• reducing greenhouse gas emissions as “the most important measure;”
• action on curbing short-lived pollutants such as the soot particles known as black carbon;
• assessments of how development will affect ecosystems, the peoples of the North and the rest of the world, “as the potential for major environmental damage is high;” and,
• additional environmental research in “critical areas,” such as the melting of the Greenland ice cap and loss of Arctic sea ice and the use of traditional knowledge and direct observations by indigenous peoples to inform policy and management actions.
You can read the 2013 Year Book here.