Scientists warn of growing crisis in the Arctic; Arctic Council again fails to act

Press release - May 15, 2013
Despite strong calls for more action to address climate change from its own working groups and scientists, and many of the Ministers attending the meeting, today’s Arctic Council foreign ministers meeting has ended with no plans for binding international agreements to regulate black carbon emissions or curb the Arctic oil rush. Further, the Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic Agreement, which was signed by the foreign ministers in Kiruna, includes no specific practical minimum standards that governments must adhere to, and has no provisions to hold companies liable for the full costs and damages of a spill should one occur.

Commenting from Kiruna outside the Arctic Council meeting, Ruth Davis, Greenpeace International senior policy advisor, said:

"The Arctic Council has long been renowned for commissioning top-notch science and then ignoring its implications. There were two conferences going on here — one that warned of the dangers of climate change and rapid industrialisation in this fragile region, and another, attended by Foreign Ministers, that took almost no concrete steps to address them. Throughout this meeting, the evidence from scientists and Indigenous Peoples has highlighted the devastating impacts of our fossil fuel addiction on the Arctic. Yet the Council seems in the thrall of business interests wishing to extract more oil and gas, whatever the costs to local people, wildlife and the future health of the planet. This is tantamount to a doctor showing you the lump in your lung whilst his boss offers you a cigarette"

“The lack of any meaningful action comes in stark contrast to the firm recommendations from its own scientists based on the Council-commissioned reports on ocean acidification and the impact of climate change on biodiversity — which synthesised its findings with first-hand evidence from Arctic Indigenous Peoples about changes they are witnessing. The reports conclude that without urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and a precautionary approach to industrialisation, the future of the Arctic and the Peoples who call it home is grim"

“While it's good that the Council is opening its doors to more voices by admitting more states as Observers, at the end of the day what we need is a body that listens to those most affected by climate change and not just the rich and powerful who have the most to gain from the rush to carve up the Arctic and sell off its parts. It is also imperative that the Arctic Council strengthens the participation of Indigenous Peoples by ensuring full, prior and informed consent in all Arctic Council decision making"

Greenpeace believes that during the next two years, the Arctic Council must deliver concrete results protecting the environment and the people who rely on it by:

  • Agreeing to develop new, binding common standards to apply to offshore oil and gas drilling, including a ban on oil drilling in the Arctic, as it is not possible to intervene to prevent a spill or clean up the event of a spill.
  • Undertaking new, urgent action to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of Arctic states, including but not restricted to action to reduce emissions of black carbon.
  • Taking action on marine reserves, including supporting the establishment of a global sanctuary in the central Arctic Ocean, as part of an enhanced plan to protect Arctic biodiversity.
  • Tackling the risks from unsustainable industrial fishing.
  • Strengthening the participation of Indigenous Peoples by ensuring full, prior and informed consent for all Arctic Council decision making and developing a work plan to include transparency and inclusiveness that will help deliver these outcomes.

For more information, please contact:

Jessica Wilson, Greenpeace International communications, +44 7896 893 118

Ruth Davis, Greenpeace International senior policy advisor, +44 7949 024 173

Notes for editors:

[1] As expected, the Council approved the cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic, a disappointingly weak document that Greenpeace International leaked in February.

[2] The Council announced its decision on the 14 applicants for observer status, opening its doors to six countries: China, India, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Italy. The European Union's application is unresolved pending resolution of a dispute with Canada over trade in some marine animal products. The Council tabled the applications of all other NGOs and organisations, including Greenpeace.

[3] A briefing on the Arctic Council can be found here.

[4] A briefing on Canada's chairmanship can be found here.

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