Protecting the Arctic: Drawing a line in the ice

Page - May 12, 2009
Unlike Antarctica, there is no single over-arching treaty governing activities in the Arctic.

With only a patchwork of different rules and regulations in place, most of which are not legally binding, the Arctic environment and its marine life are currently wide open to exploitation, bad practice and illegality.

Arctic Council

Set up in 1996, the Arctic Council, a high-level intergovernmental forum comprised of the eight Arctic nations (Canada, Denmark/Greenland/Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States of America) and six Indigenous Peoples organizations, plays an important role. However it remains to be seen if it will be the protector or the exploiter of the Arctic.

Photo: Greenpeace/Grace

Despite recognizing the vulnerable and unique nature of the region and having now had many years to develop an appropriate governance regime, the Arctic Council has only managed to put forward non-binding recommendations with no enforcement. In the meantime the agenda of the members of the Arctic Council appears to be moving towards opening up the Arctic Ocean for oil exploration and industrial fishing, so taking advantage of the melting ice instead of taking the action required to protect the already damaged ecosystem.

Given the issues of global significance affecting the Arctic and the many significant gaps in the existing legislation, there is a clear need for an over-arching Arctic multi-lateral agreement or treaty, in which the Arctic Council could play a leading role, that ensures the highest levels of protection for the Arctic and in particular for the areas of the Arctic Ocean that have traditionally been protected under the ice. While such a transparent, participatory and equitable agreement is being negotiated, nations and stakeholders must 'freeze the footprint' of growing industrial activities in the Arctic by establishing a moratorium on further industrial development in the areas made accessible by the retreating sea ice.

Greenpeace is not an anti-hunting --  we do not oppose subsistence hunting and fishing.

We recognise the right of Arctic Indigenous People to the sustainable use of natural resources for subsistence.

However, Greenpeace reserves the right to oppose any activity, including any activity carried out in the name of subsistence, which on its own or in direct concert with other activities has an adverse impact on the environment or is harmful to populations of individual species or to the dynamics and diversity of ecosystems.

Greenpeace Demands for the Arctic

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.

Marine reserve proposal for the Arctic

Map courtesy NASA