When I think of the Arctic today, the image that comes to mind is one of vultures circling over a wounded animal. Weakened by climate change, its protective ice shield shrinking, the Arctic is vulnerable.
Vulnerable and valuable, with oil, gas and mineral resources, shipping routes and fish stocks that are now within reach.
I realize itâ€™s not exactly fair to compare the companies and governments that would exploit these resources to vultures. A newly open Arctic could provide important development opportunities for the regionâ€™s people. However, as discussed at this weekâ€™s Arctic Biodiversity Congress, this development has to be managed in a way that recognizes the role of healthy ecosystems in the well-being of communities in and beyond the Arctic.
In this regard, thereâ€™s a bit of good news. The Arcticâ€™s historic inaccessibility â€“ its harsh climate and distance from major population centres â€“ means its ecosystems have been protected from the human-induced degradation so prevalent elsewhere on the planet. So, even as the Arctic faces greater pressure from climate change than other regions, there is still time to put in place the protections that would allow the Arctic to thrive and provide services to humanity.
But where the Arctic once essentially protected itself, it will now take a concerted, international effort to protect biodiversity and mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. This is where the Arctic Council must lead. However, just as the threats are global, the response must be as well.
Thatâ€™s why even as I enjoy Norwegian hospitality, I will be keeping a close eye on Lima, Peru. My WWF colleagues will be there, pushing for the strongest possible outcomes for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This is a critical milestone on the â€śroad to Paris,â€ť where next year world leaders must reach a deal to address climate change. Leaders of Arctic nations â€“ together with nations that hold observer status in the Arctic Council â€“ should be the loudest voices calling for such a deal, as their communities and ecosystems are already taking the hit.
The specific examples of Lima and Paris show how decisions made elsewhere affect the Arctic, and they represent a bigger truth: Weâ€™re all connected. My speech here at the congress is entitled â€śArctic biodiversity begins at home,â€ť but the point I want to make is that â€śhomeâ€ť extends well beyond the Arctic itself.
Itâ€™s Washington, D.C., as the United States prepares to chair the Arctic Council in 2015. Itâ€™s Beijing, where decisions are made about crucial habitat for millions of migratory Arctic birds. Itâ€™s in boardrooms around the world as companies decide how to ship, where to drill and what to fish in the Arctic.
The Arctic provides an interesting test for humanity. Our activities have altered the land and seascape sufficiently to open new opportunities â€“ many of which will further degrade the environment and contribute to climate change. Will we chart a sustainable future for the region, its people and wildlife, or will we deliver the coup de grĂ˘ce, and let the vultures have it?
Janos Pasztor is Acting Executive Director, Conservation, WWF International