Protecting the Arctic

Written evidence submitted by WWF-UK

WWF is a leading global conservation organisation, employing over 5000 staff in more than 100 countries and with more than 5 million supporters across the world.

The WWF Global Arctic Programme has coordinated WWF's work in the Arctic since 1992. We work through our offices in six Arctic countries, with experts in circumpolar issues like governance, climate change, oil and gas, shipping and species.


· Declining Arctic sea ice is opening the Arctic to commercial pressures including offshore oil and gas development, increased shipping and fisheries.

· Although not an Arctic nation, the UK has significant interests in the region, and the opportunity exists now to strengthen the UK ’s role in the international stewardship of the region.

· This includes providing scientific, technical and policy expertise and capacity and sharing best practice across the Arctic Council’s working groups and at IMO Polar Code negotiations.

· T he UK Government should develop a clear and transparent policy on UK activity in the Arctic , to provide a framework for the comprehensive protect ion of the region from the effects of climate change and unrestricted development.

· To keep within the internationally agreed goal of limiting average global warming to 2°C, the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves need to remain in the ground. The UK and EU can greatly reduce their demand for oil and gas by a concerted drive towards a low-carbon economy. Not only would this deliver on our existing climate change goals, it would also reduce pressures to exploit the Arctic .

1. How the effects of global warming might open up the region to commercial opportunities, and how the UK in taking advantage of these might ensure that the region’s environment is protected

1.1 The Arctic has warmed at about twice the rate of the global average over the past few decades [1] with much of the Arctic reaching temperatures above 0°C in summer . As a res ult, climate change is already d e - stabilising important arctic systems, including sea ice, the Greenland Ice Sheet, mountain glaciers and aspects of the arctic carbon cycle including methan e release fro m soils, permafrost, lakes and wetlands. The impact of these changes on the Arctic ’s physical and biological systems and people is large , has global implications, and is predicted to grow.

1.2 The A rctic is predicted to be virtually free of summer sea ice within a generation [2] . Sea i ce extent has decreased sharply in all seasons, with summer sea ice declining most dramatically – beyond the projections of IPCC 2007. Nearly 40% of the sea ice area that was present in the 1970s was lost by 2007 , the record low year for summer se a ice extent (with 2011 the second lowest ), and ice - free conditions existed in 2008 in both the Northeast and Northwest passages for the first time on record. Thicker multi-year ice declined in extent by 42% or 1.5 million km 2 between 2004 and 2008 - meaning that arctic sea ice is becoming increasingly vulnerable to melting, opening the Arctic region and in particular the Arctic ocean to commercial pressures 1 .

1.3 Ar ctic change is unequivocal and has affected the Arctic earlier than predicted . A return to previous Arctic conditions is unlikely [3] .

1.4 Commercial opportunit i es resulting fro m the loss of Arctic summer sea ice may include :

· development of new oil and gas reserves . These may be located in remote offshor e frontiers with harsh environment al conditions, lack of infrastructure, and poorly understood ecosystems that may be highly vulnerable to disturbance ;

· increase in volume of shipping and new shipping routes , with the inherent risks of ships operating in ice infested and poorly- charted waters ;

· expansion of commercial fisheries in the absence of sound knowledge of Arctic marine environments, including areas of ocean that were previously ice –covered.

1.5 The UK is recognised as one of the non-Arctic nations with the greatest interests in the Arctic (including science, shipping, insurance, and mineral resource activities). As such, it has an important role to play in the international stewardship of the region: by promoting resilience-based ecosystem management, by sharing or establishing best practices for industry and by promoting sound marine governance. Although the governance of the Arctic is the primary responsibility of Arctic nations, the UK Government has a legitimate interest in the protection of the region. This includes oversight of the activities of British c ompanies operating in the area.

1.6 Any commercial/economic benefits to the ‘opening up’ of the Arctic must be balanced against the risks to the Arctic people and environment. In its dealings with the Arctic, the UK must adopt a precautionary appro ach in the absence of comprehensive scientific understanding of how devel opment (such as oil and gas ) might affect the region.

1.7 As a first step, t he UK Government should develop a clear and transparent policy on UK activity in the Arctic , which will help to protect the region from the effects of climate change, and unrestricted development. WWF -UK , worki n g with a nu mber of other environmental NGO s, has developed a set of nine P rinciples to inform the development of a UK Arctic Policy (attached at Appendix 1).

1.8 A changing Arctic also means changing management and conservation needs. In order to adapt policies, planning and management to best support arctic ecosystem resilience, WWF has developed Rapid Assessment of Circum-Arctic Ecosystem Resilience (RACER) [4] , a new tool for identifying and mapping places of conservation importance throughout the Arctic . RACER locates sources of ecological strength and durability ( ecosystem resilience) and looks ahead to how they will persist in a climate-altered future. It involves a two- stage process: i.) mapping (principally by remote sensing) the current location of land and sea features which have high productivity and diversity and ii.) testing whether they will continue as sources of region-wide resilience against climate models.

1.9 The RACER methodology therefore looks ahead to anticipate the impact of change and the future capacity of ecosystems to adapt, rather than concentrating only on what is vulnerable now. This allows us to focus conservation and management techniques on where they will have the most benefit for the continued functioning of arctic ecosystems, including the ecological services people receive from them .

1.10 WWF welcome s the consideration, support and endorsement by the UK Government of RACER as a key planning tool for Arctic conservation.

2. What the consequences will be of unrestricted development in the Arctic

2.1 Oil exploration and production in ‘frontier’ Arctic offshore regions comes with a high risk to the environment, wildlife and to some local peoples who depend on a clean and healthy marine ecosystem for their subsistence liveli hoods.

2.2 The risks associated with offshore oil exploration elsewhere are ex a cerbated by the polar conditions including extreme cold, extended seasons of darknes s, storms and fog, varying form s and ext ent of ice for most of the year , remoteness and minimal infrastructure . All of these affect access and working conditions and increase the risk of spills occurring as well as posing significant constraints on oil spill response capability . In addition, petroleum hydrocarbons persist longer at low temperatures, increasing the susceptibility of Arctic wildlife to long-term cumulative impacts from these substances.

2.3 The impact of a major oil spill in the Arctic can be severe and long - term. For example, t he 1989 Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill resulted in :

· 1, 300 miles of shoreline contaminated with oil

· the mortality of 250,000 seabirds, nearly 4,000 sea otters, 300 harbour seals , 250 bald eagles and more than 20 orcas

· billions of salmon and herring eggs destroyed

· $20 billion in subsistence harvest losses

· $19 million in lost visitor spending the year following the spill

· at least $286.8 million in losses to local fishermen

2.4 A report by WWF in 2009 highlighted that m ore than two decades after the Exxon Valdez disaster ( and the extensive c lean-up operation which involved more that 10,000 personnel and 100 aircraft ) , oil is still found on many beaches and intertidal zones in Prince William Sound, and up to 450 miles beyond [5] and continued to harm local wildlife, commercial fishing activities, coastal community cultures and the recreation and tourism industries . In 2003, scientists estimated that more than 80,000 litres of oil remain ed on the be aches of Prince William Sound . O il that seeped deep into the mussel beds and boulder beaches may continue to pollute the area for deca des to come, as subsurface oil can remain unweathered and toxic for years before winter storms or foraging animals reintroduce it into the environment.

2.5 Despite the catastrophic and long-term impacts of this spill on Alaska s people and marine resources, WWF concluded that oil companies and governments have made little progress in quickly and efficiently responding to oil spills in the Arctic region. WWF predicts that, were it to happen again today, a spill the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster would likely prove equally as devastating.

2.6 Subsequently, WWF examined the capa city to respond to oil spills under Arctic conditions [6] , in light of a report by the US Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service (MMS). WWF concluded that despite some progress, significant gaps remain in the availability of effective oil spill response tools for the Arctic . The key finding s included :

· The inability to detect oil spilled in and under ice in the most common arctic conditions remains a major technical challenge, even with the use of Ground Penetrating Radar ;

· Oil spill thickness mapping (using multispectral aerial imagery combined with infrared detection) requires additional testing in arctic conditions ;

· Mechanical response equipment has very low effectiveness in waters with more than 30% ice coverage in the spill area ;

· In situ burning is limited to thick, pooled oil ( most oils spread out thinly very rapidly on water). Emul sified (containing water) oils are very difficult to burn ;

· Dispersants do not remove oil from the sea - rather they spread it through the water column.

2.7 Environmental conditions in the Arctic can result in periods where it is impossible to respond to an offshore oil spill . In 2011, WWF- Canada undertook an analysis to quantify the ‘response gap’ (the percentage of time when no response is possible due to environmental conditions) for Canada ’s Arctic offshore, in response to a report commissioned by the Canadian National Energy Board. The response gap is significant. For example, during the month of June in the Beaufort Sea an oil spill response is not possible during 66% of the time for near offshore and 82% for far offshore. A spill response in the Beaufort Sea would not be possible for more than 50% of the time between June and September. By October, no response would be possible more than four fift hs of the time and no respons e is possible from November to M ay. Oil spill response gaps must be calculated and factored into the assessment of the potential consequences of a blowout or spill at proposed drilling locations.

2.8 The avoidance of adverse anthropogenic disturbance from development activities such as oil and gas is particularly important in areas which are important habitats for cetaceans. If an area is particularly biologically important, the animals may demonstrate site fidelity and not move elsewhere if disturbance occurs, and may become subject to harm as a result.

2.9 The current level of protection of Arctic cetacean species’ habitat is not sufficient to provide these species with the buffer that they will need to withstand the rapid changes to their environment that will occur as a result of global climate change – both directly as the ecosystems in which they live change, and indirectly as human industrial activities expand.

2.10 Cetaceans are greatly impacted by offshore oil and gas throughout the operational cycle. Cetaceans use sound to communicate, navigate and feed, and thus the noise produced by offshore oil and gas operations is of particular concern.

· Offshore Seismic Surveying Noise produced during offshore seismic surveys may physically harm and/or behaviourally affect cetaceans. Adverse effects may include physical harm to the ear and associated hearing loss, stress, discomfort, injury, masking of other important sounds, and behavioural responses.

· Construction and Operation of Offshore Platforms and Pipelines and Onshore Structures In the short term, construction of oil and gas facilities could cause habitat loss for cetaceans, a particular problem if occurring in a critical habitat of a cetacean species that shows high site fidelity. Noise and human activity associated with construction and operation could disturb cetaceans that may be present in the immediate vicinity of these facilities. Construction activities can also disturb feeding or social behaviours and mask calls from conspecifics or sounds produced by predators (e.g. the killer whale). Exploratory drilling generates large volumes of drilling muds and cuttings that are discharged into the sea, and can have a major ecological impact on phytoplankton and zooplankton that can pressure the entire ecosystem. Heavier components of these cuttings and muds are expected to settle to the bottom, while lighter components may remain suspended, increasing turbidity, and could cause cetaceans to avoid the area.

· Vessel and aircraft support Offshore exploration, construction, and production operations require vessel and aircraft support. Cetaceans may be affected by traffic either by noise disturbance from passing vessels or aircraft or by direct collisions with vessels, which can be fatal.

· Accidents Accidental chemical spills (e.g. oil) are anticipated as a result of extracting offshore oil and gas resources. Marine mammals may be exposed to spilled oil by direct contact, inhalation, and ingestion, resulting in a variety of lethal and sublethal effects.

2.11 Despite substantial research and monitoring of polar bears in some areas of the Arctic there is a general lack of knowledge in regards to how the cumulative effects of climate warming, industrial development and other human activities are likely to interact to influence the status of the world's polar bear sub-populations [7] . The status of polar bear ( Ursus maritimus )  populations has been assessed at both national (5 national assessments) and internati onal level, and 7 of 19 of the W orld's polar bear sub-populations are found to declining in number, with trends in two linked to reductions in sea ice. There is still little or no knowledge on status and trends for the East Greenland sub-population or the two sub-populations under exclusive Russian jurisdiction (Laptev Sea and Kara Sea ).

2.12 In an effort to address both the individual and cumulative effects of these stressors, the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna Working Group of the Arctic Council (CAFF) has facilitated the development of a Circumpolar Polar Bear Monitoring Plan that will provide advice on approaches for the coordinated collection and synthesis of the data required to effectively manage and mitigate existing threats to polar bear conservation [8] .

2.13 Seismic activity from oil and gas exploration can also have a local impact on fish, including damage to hearing organs, stunning effect, severe tissue damage, increased levels of stress, altered swimming behavior abandonment of breeding grounds during spawning season and death of fish larvae [9] , [10] , [11] .

2.1 4 D evelop ment activities also have the capacity to alter and change the dynamics of local and indigenous communities including the migration of a new labour force , and changes to traditional lifestyle and cultures.

3. How Arctic energy reserves might impact on UK energy security and policy

3.1 The UK economy is increasingly exposed to imported fossil fuels, and the associated price risks – notably for oil and gas. Indeed, the vast majority of recent consumer gas and electricity bill increases has been driven by the steep rise in the wholesale price of gas. At the same time the UK needs to plan for a transition to a low carbon economy, in order to meet legally binding targets to cut emissions by at least 80% by 2050, as required by the Climate Change Act (2008). This will require concerted action to "get us off the fossil fuel hook". Similar transformations to energy systems are being considered at EU level, and in many economies around the world.

3.2 Some are looking to the Arctic as a source of oil and gas. However, oil and gas consumption can be expected to decrease substantially in the medium term as the UK transitions to a low-carbon economy. UK energy policy is at a crossroads. Around a quarter of the UK ’s ageing power generation capacity is due to close over the coming decade. To ensure energy security, the UK needs significant investment in new electricity generation capacity and to reduce demand for electricity. The Committee on Climate Change has made it clear that UK power generation must essentially be carbon-free by 2030. We have the opportunity to become a leader in clean, renewable energy. WWF’s Positive Energy [12] report demonstrates that renewable sources can meet 60% or more of the UK ’s electricity demand by 2030, while also displacing oil and gas use elsewhere through electrification of heat and transport. There is also significant opportunity to reduce UK dependency on oil through promotion of more efficient conventional vehicles and, over time, a strong shift to electric vehicles as demonstrated by WWF’s Electric Avenues report [13] . It is therefore clear that a focus on renewable energy to decarbonis e the power sector can allow us to significantly reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels from increasingly high risk drilling environments such as the Arctic while maintaining system security – that is providing enough electricity at all times to make sure there is never a risk of the ‘lights going out’.

3.3 At the UN climate change summit in Cancun in December 201 0 , 194 nations agreed to an objective to limit the average increase in global temperatures to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels . They also agreed to review the case for a more ambitious objective to limit warming to 1.5 ° C, a goal favoured by more than 100 nations including the most vulnerable developing countries and small island states. However, to m eet th e 2 ° C limit no more than 20% of existing fossil fuel reserves can be burnt . Put simply, the world already has far more fossil fuel "assets" than can be used – it is therefore highly concerning that the fossil fuel industry, including many companies based in or funded by investors in the UK, is driving forward with efforts to develop new reserves, especially when located in high risk and environmentally sensitive areas such as the Arctic.

3.4 The UK ’s current exposure to high carbon extractive and environmen tally unsustainable investments risks creating a ‘carbon bubble’ [14] , [15] and could pose a systemic risk to our financial system and a threat to our economic security. A group of leading investors, universities and NGOs has written to the Bank of England calling for a formal assessment of this systemic risk, and action to address it [16] . The global drive to reduce carbon emissions and the transition to a low carbon economy could mean that billions of pounds of fossil fuel reserves will rapidly lose value and cause a major problem for investors and pensions.

4. How new Arctic shipping routes and fishing grounds might affect UK maritime and fisheries policy

4.1 Shipping in Arctic waters may pose significant negative impacts through emissions to air, discharges to sea, oil or hazardous cargo spills, disturbance to wildlife through noise, ship strikes or the introduction of invasive alien species.

4.2 The UK Governme nt has the opportunity to influence maritime policy – specifically a legally binding Polar Code (currently bei ng negotiated at IMO, London), to ensure that new Arctic shipping routes c an be sustainably managed, and to ensure that the Code comprehensively addresses all forms of potential impact from vessels operating in polar waters and ensure that the highest possible environmental standards are applied.

4.3 WWF are involved in the IMO Polar Code discussions and have submitted individually or in collaboration with other NGOs a large number of recommendations covering the s cope of the Code, environmental protection, infrastructure support and compliance, carriage and handling of oil and garbage, air emissions and black carbon, underwater noise, ballast water dis charge, anti-fouling systems and ship strikes.

4.4 The development of the Polar Code should recognize that there are a number of IMO instruments providing environmental protection provisions, including MARPOL 73/78 , SOLAS, the Ballast Water Management Convention and the Anti-fouling Systems Convention.  The Polar Code should go beyond existing regulations w h ere appropriate, recognising that polar operations require extra regulation due to unique operating conditions and environmental sensitivity.

4.5 With the possible opening up of fishing grounds in the Arctic, WWF would seek to promote good fisheries governance and sustainable fishing practices, which ultimately lead to Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification. Priority fisheries in the Arctic should be managed under a Long-term Management Plan and harvested without negative long-term impact on the ecosystem. The fisheries should operate under implementation of a spatial area plan that protects vulnerable (High Conservation Value) marine ecosystems through the establishment of fishery refuges and other Marine Protected Areas.

5. What other UK domestic and foreign policies may potentially impact on the Arctic

5.1 UK domestic policy on managing the marine environment through the UK Marine & Coastal Access Act (2009) [17] offers a leading global example of how to work towards sustainable resource management. Integrated marine planning and licencing bringing industry, government and other stakeholders together for sustainable development may be advocated by the UK Government. Designating a proportion of the Arctic Seas within Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) will help to prevent over-exploitation in the longer term. Good governance of the seas including co-operation between different states (through integrated maritime spatial planning) is essential to ensuring sustainable development of the region.

6. How the Government might use its place on the Arctic Council to influence resource exploitation and steer development in the region towards a more sustainable path. And what other opportunities exist for the UK to influence politics in the region to ensure sustainable development of the region.

6. 1 A meeting of UK Arctic Stakeholders ( including FCO, MOD, DfT, DEFRA) in 2008 considered the UK’s role at Arctic Council and concluded that the UK needs to ‘strengthen its role’, and to better coordinate its approach in its engagement in the Arctic . UK influence, participation and engagement at Arctic Council is currently considered to be modest.

6.2 Nevertheless, the UK is well placed to use and make publicly available its scientific, conservation and technical expertise and capacity across the six Arctic Council working groups covering issues such as climate change, conservation and ecosystem based management and oil spill prevention, preparedness and response. The UK has demonstrated it’s commitment to Arctic science by establishing the NERC Arctic Research Programme, and is recognised as a leading stakeholder in polar science. The UK Government should maintain and strengthen British science in the Arctic to facilitate an understanding of climate warming on the Arctic environment , conservation needs for the region, and the implications of a warming Arctic for the global climate system.

6. 3 One current example of how the UK might use its place on the Arctic Council is through close engage ment with and participation in the Task Force established in 2011 to develop an international Instrument on Arctic marine oil pollution preparedness and response. The UK Government should support the development of such an International instrument, providing advice and recommendations based on UK expertise. The overarching aim of the Agreement should be to preserve and protect the unique ecological and cultural characteristics of the Arctic . The A greement should embrace the precautionary approach by acknowledging the lack of information about the Arctic environment, the impacts of industrial activity on the environment, an d the effects of climate change . It should identify and protect ecologically, socially and culturally important areas. The agreement should address spill prevention, including the use of the best available technologies and best environmental practices.

Appendix 1. UK Arctic Principles


Principles to Inform a Policy Statement on UK Interests in the Arctic [1]

January 2012


The Arctic is one of the largest remaining ecologically intact regions on earth and home to Indigenous peoples and a unique and diverse ecosystem, which is especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. It also contains significant natural resources (including minerals and fish stocks), which are becoming more accessible as the ice melts, but whose exploitation carries significant risks, and in the case of fossil fuels, will drive further climate change.

The UK is recognised as one of the non-Arctic nations with the greatest interests in the Arctic (including science, shipping, insurance, and mineral resource activities). As such, it has an important role to play in the international stewardship of the region: by promoting resilience-based ecosystem management, by establishing best practices for industry and by promoting sound marine governance. Although the governance of the Arctic is the primary responsibility of Arctic nations, the UK Government has a legitimate interest in the protection of the region. This includes oversight of the activities of British companies operating in the area, obligations under multilateral environmental agreements (e.g. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention on Migratory Species), and the wider strategic challenge s in the Arctic for the international community.

Recognising this, we believe the UK should apply a clear set of principles in its dealings with the Arctic, which will help to protect the region from the ongoing effects of climate change, and help to ensure that its natural wealth is not exploited at the expense of its Indigenous peoples, environmental security, ecosystems or wildlife.

UK Vision for the Arctic

An Arctic (including its people, wildlife and ecosystems) safeguarded for the future and shielded from the damaging effects of rapid change and exploitation through ambitious action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, effective international stewardship ( including resilience-based ecosystem management ) , good governance and responsibl e business practice - thereby promoting healthy living systems to the benefit of local peoples and all humanity.

UK Arctic Principles


Use our Observer Status at Arctic Council Effectively


Limit Climate Warming


Go Beyond Fossil Fuels


Understand and Adapt to Climate Warming


Regulate Offshore Mineral Activities Effectively


Regulate Onshore Mineral Activities Effectively 


Ensure that Fisheries are Sustainable


Control Shipping Activities


Respect the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


Support the Conservation of Migratory Species

1. Use our Observer Status at Arctic Council Effectively

The UK’s longstanding interest in Arctic affairs is reflected in its State Observer status to the Arctic Council. It is recognised that an influential and co-ordinated approach to UK engagement in the region is needed [1] . This is particularly relevant today as the Council becomes institutionally stronger, with the creation of a permanent Secretariat and its capacity to agree legally binding instruments. The UK will respond by using its position as a State Observer to engage constructively with the Arctic nations, to promote continued international co-operation and to influence precautionary environmental stewardship and conservation principles over the Arctic.

2. Limit Climate Warming

The UK also has a legitimate interest in the future of the Arctic because of the global consequences of the melting Arctic ice. Without urgent action to curb greenhouse gas emissions and address dangerous climate change, the Arctic region will be severely impacted. The UK will renew its commitment to securing a global agreement to limit average global temperature rises from pre-industrial levels to as far below 2˚C as possible. The UK will work to accelerate this transition in the EU and in other international fora. The UK will recognise and promote the need for a finite Global Carbon Budget.

3. Go Beyond Fossil Fuels

The exploitation of new and remote sources of oil and gas from highly sensitive areas such as the Arctic is incompatible with the UK 's commitment to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and limit the damaging effects of climate change. The UK will aim for a strong and sustained reduction in its fossil fuel dependency in order to meet its legally binding target to reduce its domestic emissions by at least 80% by 2050. This will require rapid and significant improvements in energy efficiency, a comprehensive and decisive shift to the use of renewable sources of energy, more stringent vehicle efficiency standards and uptake of electrical vehicles by 2020 and beyond .

4. Understand and Adapt to Climate Warming

The UK has demonstrated its commitment to Arctic science by establishing the NERC Arctic Research Programme. The UK will provide scientific and technological expertise and capacity to contribute substantially towards an understanding of the implications of climate warming on the Arctic environment and associated ecosystems, and of interactions and potential feedback loops with the global climate system. The UK will also support efforts to develop adaptation strategies in the region alongside action to reduce climate warming.

5. a. Regulate Offshore Mineral Activities Effectively

The risks and potential impacts on local ecosystems associated with Arctic offshore oil development are currently unacceptably high and unmanageable.

Despite these risks, oil and gas development in the Arctic is occurring now, and is predicted to continue to occur in the near future. During the UK’s strong and sustained reduction in its oil dependency, there remains the need to reduce these risks and potential impacts.

As such, no new drilling for offshore oil and gas should be authorised or undertaken by UK based companies in the Arctic until three existing ‘gaps’ are filled: gaps in (i) Knowledge (a comprehensive understanding of Arctic ecosystems and how they might respond to the effects of oil and gas exploration and climate warming) (ii) Technology (to reduce the risk of spills and ‘blow-outs’ occurring in the Arctic marine environment, and to respond effectively to oil spills in ice-infested waters and harsh climatic conditions); and (iii) Governance (the requirement for a legally binding international instrument on Arctic oil and gas, as well as Arctic-specific sectoral standards). At present, the knowledge, technology and legal instrument do not exist to fulfil these conditions.

Existing licensed UK Oil and Gas activity in the Arctic shall adhere to the highest operational standards that protect local ecosystems from seismic, exploration, production and decommissioning related impacts.

The UK also recognises that there are many areas in the Arctic which are too ecologically sensitive to exploit oil and gas, regardless of other considerations. Lofoten/Vesteralen (Norway), Bristol Bay, Alaska (USA) and West Kamchatka Shelf (Russia) have already been identified as such areas. The UK will support the identification of further areas, in conjunction with local communities, which should be set aside by governments as permanent ‘no-go-zones’ for oil and gas development.

5.b.  Regulate Onshore Mineral Activities Effectively

The extraction of minerals from onshore deposits have historically produced detrimental impacts on wildlife, fisheries, ecosystem services, and indigenous communities throughout the Arctic.  To minimize or eliminate these impacts, the UK government will demand onshore extractive activities adhere to the principle of free, prior, informed consent for indigenous and tribal people as adopted by the United Nations and the World Bank.  Further, the Government will not support mining activities that: (i) destroy or impair anadromous [2] or freshwater fish habitat, such that the sustained genetic diversity and abundance in the watershed is placed at significant risk; (ii) require water withdrawals that may exceed ecological flow needed for fish and wildlife; (iii) need active management in perpetuity to avoid environmental contamination or (iv) result in toxic mine drainage (including acid mine drainage) that cannot be eliminated by proven methods and technology established at comparable sites and scale.

6. Ensure that Fisheries are Sustainable

All UK fisheries in the Arctic shall be sustainable, harvested with minimum impact, and follow sound ecosystem-based management approaches.

The UK Government will support the initiative of the US Government to restrict fishing in previously ice-covered waters until the ecosystems are better understood. The need for broad and precautionary fisheries management, including the establishment of Marine Protected Areas and marine reserves, should be led and supported by the UK, to ensure future fishing in the Arctic Ocean can happen in a sustainable and regulated manner, and not destroy ocean life before it has been identified.

7. Control Shipping Activities

The UK will continue to play an active and influential role in the development of a mandatory Polar Code for shipping through the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). UK influence will ensure that shipping operations in the Arctic will be based on a suite of environmentally sound navigational and operational measures related to construction, design and equipment, operations and planning, environmental protection and response and action to reduce black carbon emissions, as well as crew training, search and rescue capabilities, monitoring and information systems, port state control, and compliance for all vessels operating in Arctic waters.

8. Respect the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

All UK industry activity in the Arctic and UK-government supported policies and programmes that affect the Arctic must acknowledge and support the rights of indigenous people to make decisions over their future. These include the rights outlined in "A Circumpolar Inuit Declaration on Sovereignty in the Arctic" and " A Circumpolar Inuit Declaration o n Resource Development Princip les in Inuit Nunaat ."

9. Support the Conservation of Migratory Species

In addition to the many important species that depend on the Arctic habitat year round, the Arctic is critically important for many migratory species, including birds, cetaceans and fish. For example, many birds that breed in the Arctic spend their winter in the UK or use the UK as a stopover on longer migrations. Our conservation work in the UK could be seriously undermined by unmanaged exploitation of the A rctic . The UK is a signatory of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the Convention on Migratory Species and, more specifically the African Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds Agreement, and should ensure it meets these obligations through cooperating with Arctic nations to conserve these species and their habitat s.

10 February 2012

[1] Sommerkorn, M and Hassol, SJ (Eds) Arctic Climate Feedbacks: Global Implications. WWF International Arctic Programme, Oslo , 2009. 97 pp.

[2] Wang, M., and J. E. Overland (2009). A sea ice free summer Arctic within 30 years? , Geophys. Res. Lett. , 36 , L07502, doi:10.1029/2009GL037820.

[3] Richter-Menge, J., and J.E. Overland ( Eds. ) , 2010: Arctic Report Card 2010,


[5] WWF-US (2009). ‘Lessons Not Learned. 20 years after the Exxon Valdez Disaster Little has Changed in how we Respond t Oil Spills in the Arctic . 12pp. At:

[6] Not So Fast: Some Progress in Spill Response, but US Still Ill-Prepared for Arctic Offshore Development (2009). WWF and Harvey Consulting LLC. 14pp.

[7] Vongraven, D. and Richardson, E. (2011) Biodiversity - Status and Trends of Polar Bear s Arctic Report Card. At:

[8] Vongraven, D. And Peacock, E. (2011). Development of a Pan-Arctic Monitoring Plan for Polar Bears CAFF Monitoring Series Report No. 1, 2011. 47pp. At:


[10] Popper, AN and Hastings MC (2009). The effects of human-generated sound on fish. Integrative Zoology 2009; 4: 43-52

[11] Dalen, J. and Mæstad, K . (2008) The impact of seismic surveys. Marine Research News No. 5 .20 Institute of Marine Research, Bergen , Norway . At

[12] Banks, J. and Molho, N. (2011).Positive Energy: how renewable electricity can transform the UK by 2030. WWF. 64 pp. At:


[14] Leaton, J. (2011). Unburnable Carbon -Are the world’s financial markets carrying a carbon bubble ? Carbon Tracker Initiative. 33 pp. At




[1] These Principles have been developed by a group of UK environmental NGOs (listed above) in consultation with academics and other individuals with expertise in Arctic issues .   The Principles are open to support from all stakeholders, with a view to finding a common position on the issues the UK Government should reflect in its policy towards the Arctic


[1] UK Arctic Stakeholders Meeting , 2008


[2] Anadromous fish are those that spend all or part of their adult life in salt water and return to freshwater streams and rivers to spawn

Prepared 24th February 2012