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A shortcut to Arctic protection

A decision on central Arctic Ocean fishing needs to be put on the fast-track, even if that means taking the decision out of the Arctic Council’s hands
Otherwise he’ll get angry. You wouldn’t like that (Photo: Ludolf Dahmen/Greenpeace)

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Over the past year, a lot of you have helped us at Greenpeace to put pressure on OSPAR (the Oslo-Paris Convention) to stand up for Arctic protection. Since we started work on getting OSPAR to protect an area around the North Pole roughly the size of the UK, initially proposed by WWF, the pressure has been mounting on countries at the negotiating table. And the pressure has not been for nothing.

At the last OSPAR meeting, in Gothenburg back in February, OSPAR formally accepted that there are valid scientific reasons for defending this unique area on top of the world. This means that, in principle, it is now left to the politicians to do their job and ensure that the area is protected from destructive fisheries and other industries as climate change is causing the ice to melt.

This was a major step and means that it will be difficult for blockers such as Denmark and Norway to say that there is no need to act. Unfortunately, we all know that politicians are generally quite good at ignoring science and, as such, there is no guarantee that OSPAR will stay on the path towards Arctic protection.

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OSPAR’s Co-ordination Group will meet this week in London. Logically they should simply forward the discussion for the main meeting in June, but there is a real risk that the aforementioned blockers will do their utmost to sideline the discussion by initiating talks with the Arctic Council.

On paper, this would seem to make sense: Arctic issues should, of course, be discussed in an Arctic Council setting, right? But the problem is that the council has continuously proven, at best, to be excruciatingly slow. At worst to make agreements where the only impact is that countries are able to claim that it represents a done deal and therefore move on to other greenwashing manoeuvres.

Even the current chair of the Arctic Council, the United States, didn’t follow council processes when it took the initiative to establish a moratorium on fisheries in the central Arctic Ocean, choosing instead to pursue talks with Arctic coastal states and other major fishing countries.

If not even the chair of an organisation believes that it can move swiftly enough, then why should we? Our best assessment is that an Arctic Council process, if we are lucky, is likely to take 10 to 15 years before it can start implementing it.

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OSPAR has time and again proved that it can take tough and ambitious decisions to protect our oceans from destructive industries. It is sometimes an unpopular decision among those who seem to have little concern about the future of our oceans, but sometimes bold decisions are required.

It is therefore important that members of OSPAR that have spoken up for Arctic protection, and in particular Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland and the EU, don’t falter at this crucial time, but instead insist that the goal must be to designate the first protected area in the Arctic high seas.

The science is clear. Now it is up to the countries to act on it. OSPAR must protect the Arctic!

The author is an Arctic political advisor for Greenpeace Spain.