Marc-André Dubois & Clive Tesar
Over the past 5 years, the Arctic Council has done a commendable job of increasingly developing implementation plans and follow-up mechanisms for its recommendations and decisions. This has been an incremental process. Landmark reports such as the 2004 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) fell a little flat because, despite thorough research and scholarship, the recommendations that flowed from such assessments went largely undone and unremarked. By 2009 the Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment was implemented through the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) plan that has been monitored, with implementation reports in 2011 and 2013.
The flaw in implementation of recommendations flowing from Arctic Council reports is that the only entities that truly take on the recommendations from Arctic Council working groups are…Arctic Council working groups. What these working groups can do is limited. They can develop further research, they can convene symposiums, and they can make recommendations. They cannot compel the activities that would make the biggest difference: implementation at a national and international level. We are not suggesting that should change. The Arctic Council is unlikely to ever have the authority to compel member states to undertake activities on a national level. However, as the recommendations are decided by a process of negotiation by those member states together with permanent participants, we believe it is not too much to ask that those same states decide how they will implement recommendations, and account for the implementation of the recommendations.
Such an initiative could be led by the incoming chair. The U.S. has already signaled that a focal area of its chairmanship will be strengthening the Council as an institution. What could strengthen it more than giving real national expression to the recommendations arrived at by the Council, and accepted by ministers? Arctic Council assessments and the related policy recommendations are financed by public money, and governments should start using them to implement their own work and provide results and benefits for their citizens. Ultimately, accelerating action for conservation achievements will lead to true delivery on the mandate of the Arctic Council.
WWF recommends that the United States lead a process to ensure that recommendations flowing from agreed recommendations are implemented at a national (and where necessary, international) level, and that the level of implementation is monitored by each state, and reported back to the Council every two years. Such a process would include the development of implementation plans for all policy recommendations outlining specific methodologies, processes, timelines, milestones and approaches for implementation of the many working group recommendations. Member states and working groups should agree to present, around each Ministerial meeting, rigorous implementation progress reports, which should be based on a similar agreed-upon format.
The implementation of the recent recommendations of the CAFF (Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna working group) Arctic Biodiversity Assessment could be a litmus test for integrating national implementation with Arctic Council-specific implementation. The coming Arctic Biodiversity Congress in Trondheim is an opportunity for states to foreshadow a commitment to follow up with national implementation plans, which could be cemented by the Iqaluit Ministerial meeting in April 2015. This should include not just commitments to research, but putting into action some of the already well-researched recommendations of the ABA – such as advancing the protection of large areas of ecologically important marine, terrestrial and freshwater habitats, taking into account resilience in a changing climate. This could be done through outlining the national components of a plan to complete a network of Arctic conservation management areas, then working collectively to ensure the necessary connectivity.
Declarations and voluntary adoption of policies by countries alone are not enough and Arctic Ministers and leaders need to follow through with new domestic laws and regulations as good intentions will not be enough to translate words into deeds.
The creation of an Arctic Council process for ensuring Arctic Council-specific actions are coupled with bold and concrete national actions to bolster implementation will provide Arctic governments with a more complete response to Arctic challenges. Ensuring that there are monitoring, implementation, and reporting requirements will provide the Council with a solid basis to inform future policy development. A focus on actionable goals and deliverables will add credibility to the Arctic Council’s desire to be seen as a sufficient steward of the Arctic.