Protecting the Arctic

Written evidence submitted by the International Polar Foundation UK

The International Polar Foundation UK is the British arm of the International Polar Foundation, a Brussels-based Belgian NGO, which seeks to bridge the divide between science and society. It promotes the advancement of education, particularly with regard to scientific research in the Polar Regions and its contribution to the greater understanding of climate change, the Arctic indigenous peoples and the conservation and protection of the polar habitat and environment.

The International Polar Foundation organised an Arctic Futures Symposium in Brussels in October 2011, which was attended by policy makers, scientists and indigenous people concerned with Arctic issues. Our statements are drawn from evidence from these discussions:

· The Arctic Council continues to be considered the pre-eminent international forum for addressing Arctic issues. The Swedes, who are currently chairing the body, see a shift in the Arctic Council from being a decision-shaping body to being a decision-making body.

· Cooperation is high amongst Arctic states; the search and rescue agreement signed at the Nuuk Ministerial is evidence of this. Cooperation is the only way forward in addressing issues that face all Arctic stakeholders.

· The Arctic States want to work within existing legal frameworks (UNCLoS) and with regional and bilateral partners in areas where it makes sense; no additional treaties or legal frameworks are necessarily needed for Arctic governance.

· Development of Arctic resources is inevitable; however it should take place under the strictest environmental standards and respect indigenous peoples’ rights and concerns.

· As it is their traditional homeland and where they make their livelihood, indigenous peoples of the Arctic wish to be a part of the dialogue when it comes to developing resources on their lands and waters (where this is not already the case).

· Armed conflict over natural resources in the Arctic is highly unlikely; legal mechanisms exist for resolving conflicts peacefully.

· Arctic shipping is unlikely to increase dramatically in the coming years, although legal frameworks and regulations should be in place to anticipate an increase in marine traffic.

· Although an agreement has been signed on search and rescue, means to conduct search and rescue operations are not adequate. Current maritime transport infrastructure cannot meet the needs of current or future Arctic shipping traffic and need to be improved.

· Existing bridges between politicians, indigenous peoples, scientists, industry and civil society should be developed and enhanced.

· Research in the Arctic should be supported across a wide range of disciplines, to provide policymakers with a sound basis from which to make decisions. In particular, the funding of long-term observation campaigns, which allow clear trends to be identified.

· Support for scientific observations via satellite and from in-situ ice stations and buoys is essential to improve the understanding of the Arctic and its changing climate. It can also assist maritime transport, search and rescue operations, sea ice and pollution monitoring.

· Information on the environment (air quality, water quality, etc.) should be made free and easily accessible to all.

10 February 2012

Prepared 24th February 2012