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Scoring the Arctic Council

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Bearded seal on ice, Spitsbergen, Norway © Wim van Passel / WWF-CanonBearded seal on ice, Spitsbergen, Norway
© Wim van Passel / WWF-Canon

This article originally appeared in issue 01.17 of The Circle. See all issues of The Circle here.

The Arctic Council provides direction in the form of Ministerial decisions, policy recommendations, guidelines, framework plans, and binding agreements. It is then imperative that the Arctic states put this direction into practice to deliver good governance. This first WWF Arctic Council Conservation Scorecard looks at the extent to which Arctic States have implemented Arctic Council direction nationally, and whether the Arctic Council has delivered agreed-upon commitments through its own work. Since WWF focuses its work on conservation, that is the direction analyzed here.

WHILE SOME COUNTRIES are moving to address specific environmental issues in the Arctic, our findings indicate national implementation of Arctic Council direction has, overall, been poor. The Arctic Council itself is excellent in delivering on its commitments, demonstrating that the Arctic states’ involvement at the Arctic Council is extremely valuable. However, greater efforts in implementation are required by member states to secure a healthy Arctic, and for Arctic countries to reap the rewards of their involvement at the Council.


The Scorecard is based on an analysis of Council direction in six assessment areas. These areas were chosen to evaluate implementation performance because they have been the focus of Arctic Council direction over the past decade and because they relate to the protection of the Arctic environment.

  1. 1 Arctic states are advancing towards identification of conservation areas. However, the implementation of specific area-based protection measures such as marine protected areas is fragmentary and few mechanisms are in place to safeguard Arctic marine biodiversity under changing environmental conditions. 20.2% of the Arctic’s terrestrial area is protected but only 4.7% of the Arctic’s marine areas are protected. Further action is required to establish a comprehensive network of specially managed marine areas.
  2. Arctic states are slow to mainstream and incorporate strategies for resilience and adaptation of Arctic biodiversity in their plans for development, legislation and practices. This could be because the recent, ambitious, long-term policy recommendations of the 2013 Arctic Biodiversity Assessment will take time to implement. There is also slow progress on reducing human disturbance outside protected areas, except for fishing regulation. Arctic states have introduced practices that reduce by-catch of marine mammals, seabirds and non-target fish and avoid significant adverse impact to the seabed. The states also have solid biodiversity monitoring systems in place.
  3. Arctic states are taking steps to protect areas of heightened ecological and cultural significance from the impacts of Arctic shipping, but implementation is incomplete. Countries appear slow to reduce air emissions from shipping, although they are acting to prevent the introduction of invasive species and to establish marine monitoring traffic systems.
  4. The Arctic Council direction for oil spills focuses on administrative preparedness and response. Arctic states perform very well against those commitments. The provisions of the 2013 Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic, however, are not ambitious. This Scorecard did not assess whether response capacity is sufficient for real-world oil spill response.
  5. Canada, Norway, Russia, and the United States are exploiting massive oil resources, thus increasing emissions of greenhouse gases responsible for climate change. WWF urges Arctic states to transition swiftly towards a low-carbon economy to reduce these emissions. In 2015, Arctic states collectively represented 21.40% of global carbon dioxide emissions. The effects of black carbon in the Arctic are unique and noticeable in that it darkens snow and ice, reducing their ability to reflect sunlight. WWF commends many of the Arctic states for implementing early actions to reduce black carbon emissions.
  6. The outlook for national efforts to implement ecosystem-based management in the Arctic is bleak. Arctic states need to invest in applying the ecosystem approach as requested by Arctic ministers. This poor performance can be attributed to a lack of specific research on combined effects of multiple stressors as well as a lack of political leadership.


Establishing the Arctic Council as the preeminent policy-making forum in the region will require member states to develop reporting capacity for ensuring a transparent, effective and accountable institution. Arctic states should report back to the Arctic Council secretariat on national action and progress in implementing Arctic Council direction to achieve this.

Based on the Scorecard results, governments also need to upgrade their respective national processes to strengthen implementation of Arctic Council direction domestically and across borders. WWF recommends Arctic States establish national action mechanisms to lead implementation of Arctic Council direction.

The direction is expected to become more specific to provide effective guidance to implementing authorities including results that should be achieved. Future Council direction should identify responsible parties, clarify terms of action requested, and provide timelines.

The WWF Arctic Council Conservation Scorecard will be updated every two years to assist the Council and its member states in monitoring progress. We hope this will encourage a more systematic delivery of actions critical to the Arctic Council’s mission to protect the Arctic environment.

See the scorecard here.

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