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Arctic: to drill or not to drill?

The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth. This is disrupting communities, vegetation zones and habitats for the four million people and numerous species living there, while causing sea levels to rise and greenhouse gases to be released from the oceans further afield.


Melting sea ice and snow may present new opportunities for development, but how should these be balanced against the vital need for protection and stewardship of the region?


For UN Environment’s Europe Director Jan Dusík, the technology exists to ensure the Arctic follows a green path, yet countries now need to ensure this is translated into reality.


The Paris Agreement is also among treaties creating an unstoppable momentum for climate action, he said at this year’s Arctic Frontiers conference, on a panel with the head of sustainability at Statoil Bjørn Otto Sverdrup and the Greenpeace Executive Director Jennifer Morgan. China is an emerging global environmental leader and Nordic countries can now renew their leadership role in this regard, Mr Dusík noted.


The annual conference brings together academia, decision-makers and business to create a firmer foundation for sustainable development in a region that is a litmus test for climate change affecting our planet. It took place in Trømso, known as the ‘gateway to the Arctic’, on 17-27 January and was attended by a record 2,000 people including the Prime Ministers of Norway and Finland.


In a subsequent panel discussion on a low-carbon ocean economy, UN Environment’s Europe Director argued that three ingredients were needed for sustainable oceans. People must be on board thanks to positive and clear language explaining how their well-being depends on more than economic wealth; the private sector is vital thanks to their innovative potential to tackle plastic pollution; while political leadership is essential through good Arctic governance structures for example.


Finland will in May 2017 take over the rotating chairmanship of the Arctic Council and has named environmental protection as being its top priority for the region, followed by connectivity, meteorology and education.


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