Protecting Lands: Creating an Arctic Sanctuary
The Arctic Ocean has become the defining battleground in the fight for a sustainable future. Help us send a clear message to world leaders—the Arctic is worth protecting.
© Nick Cobbing / Greenpeace
Climate change has already removed at least 75 percent of Arctic summer sea ice volume at rates never before experienced in human history. Soon, the Arctic Ocean will be like other oceans for much of the year: open water that is exposed to exploitation and environmental destruction.
Despite the Arctic Ocean’s unique vulnerabilities, it is the least protected of all the world’s oceans. Less than 1.5 percent has any form of protected area status. The high seas of the Arctic— which belong to no single nation—are under no form of protection.
It’s time to change this.
We’re calling for the creation of an Arctic Sanctuary that would put a significant portion of Arctic waters off limits to exploitation and respect the rights Arctic communities.
We’re not the only ones who want this: a 2014 Greenpeace survey revealed that 74 percent of people across 30 different countries support the establishment of a global sanctuary in the international waters around the North Pole. More than 70 percent of those people believe that the Arctic should be free of oil drilling and other heavy industry.
What Would an Arctic Sanctuary Look Like?
The Arctic ocean is vast, and its ecosystem depends on that immense size. An Arctic Sanctuary would need to be large as well. The Arctic high seas make up an area the size of the Mediterranean Sea.
Within the Arctic Sanctuary, there would be no fishing, no military activity and no exploration for or extraction of fossil fuels or other minerals from the seabed.
Strict environmental controls would apply to all shipping in this area, although not all shipping activity will be prohibited. Heavy fuel oil use, for example, would not be allowed—a practice that is already adopted in Antarctic waters.
What Is the Arctic Council?
The Arctic Council is the intergovernmental forum made up of Arctic nations tasked with managing the Arctic region. These nations include the United States, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Russia.
In 2015, the U.S. took over as chair of the Arctic Council, putting our government and Arctic Council representative John Kerry in a unique position to establish meaningful Arctic protection.
The Arctic Ocean has now become the defining battleground in the fight for a sustainable future for our planet. However, Arctic coastal states—particularly Canada, Greenland, Norway, Russia and the U.S.—are keen to lay claim to the valuable resources found beyond their national boundaries and have all submitted applications to extend their polar seabeds. Governments and industry see the opening of the Arctic as yet another business opportunity to extract more fossil fuels and fish.
We now face a stark choice. We can choose to exploit the resources of one of the world’s most fragile and precious oceans. Or, we can manage it responsibly—both for future generations as well as for northern and indigenous communities whose livelihoods rely upon a healthy Arctic today.
How We’ll Get There
First and foremost, establishing an Arctic Sanctuary requires that we all act for the Arctic. It means that all of us take the time to make it clear to our governments and to the international community that we believe the Arctic is worth protecting.
Second of all, we have to get the international community to make the commitments to protect the Arctic. The technical processes by which an Arctic Marine Sanctuary can be established are outlined in this Greenpeace report.
We will be pressuring the international community every chance we get. And our effort in collaboration with many organizations and indigenous peoples’ to collect signatories for an Arctic Declaration in solidarity with Arctic peoples is a major new step.