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WWF: Bush Arctic Policy Should Be Obama's Starting Point, Not End Point

WASHINGTON, January 14, 2009 – World Wildlife Fund (WWF) officials today called on the incoming Obama Administration to use the Arctic policy directive issued Friday by President Bush as a starting point to revamp, reorient and strengthen US policy in the Arctic region, particularly in the areas of oil and gas development, governance and climate change. 

Bill Eichbaum, vice president of WWF’s marine portfolio, issued the following statement:

“Climate change is altering the Arctic in dramatic and dangerous ways. The rapid rate at which the Arctic is melting is spurring a race to exploit the region’s previously inaccessible resources and poses new challenges for governing territorial claims, ensuring shipping safety and managing fisheries.

“The policy directive issued Friday by the Bush Administration recognizes this changing reality and the importance, therefore, of rethinking US policy. I am pleased that the directive asserts a willingness to restructure and strengthen governance institutions in the Arctic.  I urge the Obama Administration to build on that position and ensure a strong and integrated institutional framework for governing shipping safety, fisheries and the host of issues and challenges created by a melting Arctic.  I am also pleased that in the policy is a renewed call for the US to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which serves as the constitution for the world’s oceans and which should be an early priority of the Obama administration. 

“Not surprisingly, the language in the policy, issued in the final days of the Bush administration, fails to offer an adequate basis to counter eight years of practices and policies that have taken a decidedly wrong stance on the issue of resource extraction. Those policies have focused on expediting oil and gas development at a time when the science clearly shows that drilling in the Arctic could have devastating consequences.  It is vital that the Obama Administration reverse course and slow the rush to drill in the Arctic until the science shows it can be done safely.

“And, once there is proven technology for cleaning an oil spill in the Arctic, it is imperative that drilling operations not take place in areas where there could be harm to wildlife.  Indeed, it is critically important that the Obama Administration outline a policy for conserving wildlife and other living natural resources in the Arctic that are being threatened by climate change, an issue on which the Bush policy is unfortunately silent.

“Further, while the Bush directive says that ‘it is the policy of the United States to...[p]rotect the Arctic environment and conserve its biological resources,’ the Administration has failed to take the most important step required to accomplish that: committing the U.S. to rapidly reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.  It is vital that the global climate treaty currently being negotiated through the UN framework be strong enough to slow climate change.  If emissions are not brought down in the very near-term, we will have failed to protect not just the Arctic but the rest of the planet as well.

“As the Obama Administration considers modifications to the Arctic policy, along the lines we’ve suggested and taking into account other considerations, WWF hopes that the process will be more transparent and allow for an open exchange of ideas.

“And finally, I applaud the remarks of Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton during her confirmation hearing yesterday in which she commented on the impacts of climate change in the region, recognized the work of the Arctic Council, endorsed the Convention on Law of the Sea, and expressed support for the overall need to protect the Arctic in light of profound environmental changes.”