The Arctic and the Antarctic, two of the greatest wilderness areas on Earth with ecosystems vital to the functioning of our planet, are under assault from the impacts of rapidly accelerating climate change, industrialization, and the unchecked consumption of our planet's resources.
The poles are indicators of the planet's health and provide early warning that we are compromising the Earth´s ability to sustain life as we know it. It is already too late to avoid profound negative changes at the poles, but we can limit the damage by establishing boundaries that stop the commercial fishing fleets and the oil and gas industries from plundering and polluting these already damaged ecosystems.
No closed doors
The future of the Poles is a topic too important to let a few people decide behind closed doors. Yet, this is exactly what is happening. On March 29th, 2010, five ministers from the five Arctic coastal states met in Canada, excluding key stakeholders like the Inuit Circumpolar Council, environmental NGOs and many countries with a clear interest in what is decided for the region.
By talking to only a few countries, interested in divvying up the natural resources under the Arctic Ocean, Canada is creating a petroleum club and showing how little it cares for this fragile region.
Kumi Naidoo, International Executive Director of Greenpeace, sent open letters to all five ministers involved in this meeting.
Letter to US Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton - PDF
Letter to Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon - PDF
Letter to Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Viktorovich Lavrov - PDF
Letter to Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Støre - PDF
Letter to Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs Per Stig Møller - PDF
The snow covered lands and icy waters of the Arctic and the Antarctic are for many people the purest examples of true wilderness left on this planet that we share. The Arctic has been home to indigenous peoples for millennia, whilst Antarctica is home only to visiting scientists. Both polar oceans are also home to distinctive wildlife that has adapted to the extreme environmental conditions, such as the Arctic's polar bears and the Antarctic's penguins. Polar waters provide rich feeding grounds that sustain large populations of seabirds and marine mammals including the majority of the world's great whales.
While in the past both Poles have drawn the attention of those who saw the wildlife --and in particular the seals and the whales --only as rich pickings that could be exploited for immediate profit, the 21st century sees both regions under threat from industrial exploitation on a scale that was previously unimaginable.
Greenpeace has set up bases at both ends of the world to stop oil and gas exploration in the fragile environments of the Arctic and the Antarctic.
Oil, gas and fishing interests are all encroaching on these once out-of-reach regions while simultaneously their fragile ecologies are under massive pressure from the effects of rapidly increasing climate change.
The poles are in grave danger.
Only by establishing large scale marine reserves at both poles as part of a global network, can we ensure the future of these regions and their astounding array of wildlife.
Marine Reserves provide the best potential solution at both Poles
The profound physical changes happening at the ends of the Earth are a wake-up call which we ignore at our peril. How we treat the Polar Oceans has major consequences for the planet as a whole. This generation has a unique opportunity and responsibility to take action to bring us back from the brink of runaway climate change, and protect some of the most fragile and essential ecosystems on earth.
There is a compelling body of scientific evidence which demonstrates that setting aside large areas of the ocean from industrial activities such as fishing and oil and gas extraction provides protection for valuable species and habitats, maintains important ecosystem functions and allows degraded areas to recover. This is even more important for the Polar Oceans since the Arctic and Antarctic are warming faster than the rest of the globe and so are under increased stress.
Creating marine reserves in the Polar Oceans will make them both more resilient to the impacts of climate change and will help prevent further, catastrophic, climate change.
Greenpeace calls upon the United Nations and governments around the world to commit to the following course of action to save the Arctic and Antarctic:
- Establish an immediate moratorium on industrial development in the area of the Arctic Ocean that has historically been covered by sea ice year-round. This "line in the ice" is the average minimum sea ice extent averaged from 1979-2000, the period before significant sea ice loss due to climate change was recorded.
- Create a long term solution by agreeing a permanent, equitable and overarching treaty or multi-lateral agreement that protects the Arctic Ocean environment and ecosystems and the peoples who depend on them.
- Antarctic Treaty member states must honour their commitment to dedicate the continent to 'peace and science' and implement their obligations to establish a comprehensive and representative network of marine reserves in the Southern Ocean. To be effective this network should be of sufficient scale, covering at least 40 percent of the Southern Ocean.