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A Step Toward Improving Arctic Governance

“This is not a step forward. This is a great leap forward….The Arctic is no longer a sleepy backwater, but a priority region for some of the richest and most powerful states in the world.”
- Alexander Shestakov, Director of WWF’s Global Arctic Program

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other high-ranking public officials from the eight countries that border the Arctic Ocean agreed for the first time May 11, 2011 on a set of rules and actions geared toward protecting the fragile Arctic environment.

Meeting in Greenland, the country representatives and indigenous leaders who make up the Arctic Council signed their first binding legal agreement (related to sharing search and rescue responsibilities), agreed to further explore tools to better manage resources (e.g., fish) that flow across international borders, and decided to assess climate change and resilience in the Arctic. Each of these actions support WWF’s efforts to eliminate the significant threats to the region’s vulnerable and valuable species habitat.

The Council members also agreed to establish a task force aimed at developing a new international agreement on oil spill preparedness and response. While oil spill prevention is not included in the mandate of the task force, WWF is hopeful the agreement would support WWF’s goal of halting oil and gas drilling in the Arctic until there is proven technology capable of effectively preventing or responding to spills in the region’s remote location and harsh climate.


WWF is disappointed that the Council neglected to take action that would encourage Arctic countries to set explicit and binding national emissions reduction targets towards 80 percent reduction, and to implement ambitious action plans for adaptation and low carbon development. Climate change remains the most urgent issue in the Arctic.

The Arctic Council was formed in 1996 to encourage cooperation on issues related to sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic. Since its creation, the Council has produced a number of important research papers on topics such as biodiversity, climate change and shipping. However, until the May 2011 meeting, the Council had never taken action that commits each country to rules related to protecting the Arctic.

The next Arctic Council ministerial meeting will be held in two years. WWF will continue to monitor and report on the Council’s progress on conservation issues, and will continue to offer its expertise and research.