A thin Arctic statement, and a thick worrying report

The second week of May 2019 started with two important events: the release of a summary of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ (IPBES) Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services; and the Eleventh Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council (AC). These two events are crucial events for the advancement of our understanding of global biodiversity decline and for steps forward.

The AC is an intergovernmental forum in which the eight Arctic states – the US, Canada, Russia, Denmark/Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden – get together to develop policies and programmes that slow down the effects of climate change, protect the Arctic environment, and ultimately help the Arctic population. Particularly as regards the latter, the AC includes six Arctic indigenous organisations in its decision-making procedures. Every two years the AC meets for a ministerial meeting in which the broader pathway of its work is concluded in ministerial declarations. Not this year, however.

The meeting is currently in full swing in the northern Finnish town of Rovaniemi. However, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs were not able to agree on a mutual language, but merely adopted a Joint Ministerial Statement. What is notable in this statement is that the term ‘climate change’ does not occur. Instead, merely general statements can be found that appear to be more of a point of departure for all actions of the Arctic Council rather than concrete steps for the next Chairmanship by Iceland.

11th Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council in Rovaniemi, Finland

The role of indigenous peoples is merely touched in passing, also the alarming rate of biodiversity decline, which is supported also by the Council’s working groups, does not find recognition in the statement. Instead, the meeting was dominated by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s lashing out against China and Russia (his entire speech can be found here), undermining the cooperative spirit of the Council. The different views on the Arctic, the role of the Arctic Council, and future development of the Arctic can best be seen in the stream of the meeting.

The other meeting that took place was of a fundamentally different nature. Here, 145 nations came together in Paris for the 7th Plenary meeting of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). The IPBES functions as a body that ‘translates’ scientific findings into policy parlance.

The meeting allowed the first insight into the Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which is yet to be publicly made available. The Summary for Policy-makers that was released after the meeting made worryingly clear that the very foundations of human and animal life is at stake with the decline of more than 1 million species of flora and fauna. For instance, it is now estimated that around 10% of all insect species as well as more than 30% of marine mammals are currently declining.

The AC has always been a forum for cooperation with tangible results and the IPBES report would indeed be yet another wake up call for Arctic states to take concrete action. Particularly since the report stresses that indigenous and locally managed environments are declining to a lesser degree than others. The IPBES media release notes that “Regional and global scenarios currently lack and would benefit from an explicit consideration of the views, perspectives and rights of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, their knowledge and understanding of large regions and ecosystems, and their desired future development pathways.”

The infrastructure for effective and efficient action in and for the Arctic, taking into account indigenous and local populations, is indeed provided for in the Arctic Council. Up to this point, it has shown great success in strengthening cooperation and in tackling environmental issues in the north. It can only be hoped for that the seemingly new geopolitical paradigm, pushed by the Trump Administration, will resort back to Arctophile work structures. A thin joint statement of Arctic Ministers does not do justice to the thick report produced by IPBES.

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