Cooperation and consensus

03 November 2020
The moderators of the Arctic Council’s Senior Arctic Officials based Marine Mechanism, a new format to enhance marine cooperation, summarize key point and outcomes of the webinar series

For five consecutive weeks, marine issues topped the agenda of the Arctic Council. During a thematic webinar series, experts and knowledge holders from the Indigenous Permanent Participants, Working Groups and Observers briefed the Senior Arctic Officials on key marine issues and fostered a discussion on how the Council can enhance its role in coordinating a sustainable future for the Arctic Ocean. We asked the moderators of the webinars: What were some of the key points discussed and what were some of the ideas brought up during the virtual meetings?

The Arctic Marine Strategic Plan: Time for revisions and domestic implementation

Mary Frances Davidson, Deputy Director at the UNESCO GRÓ Fisheries Training Programme, moderated the first thematic webinar of the series, which focused on the Arctic Marine Strategic Plan (AMSP). The AMSP was developed under the leadership of the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment Working Group (PAME) and it addresses the speed, pervasiveness and diversity of Arctic change, acknowledging the challenges and opportunities for sustainable development and environmental protection.

Mary Frances Davidson summarizes:

The discussion started with a closer look at the Arctic Marine Strategic Plan – how was it set up and how have we advanced in achieving its goals. There was wide agreement that the AMSP is a good document but there is also strong consensus that – due to its 2015 to 2025 timeframe – it might be time to revise parts of the strategy. The reason for this is that some of the actions and ambitions contained within the AMSP have already been achieved. This is something we can be very proud of, but it also means that it could be time to add some new strategic aims. Additionally, science in the Arctic is moving very fast and there is space within the revision of the AMSP to incorporate issues related to for instance marine protected areas, ocean acidification, invasive species, and marine pollution.

The discussions then moved towards the role of the Senior Arctic Officials in regard to the implementation of the AMSP. One concrete suggestion was that the SAOs could support the Working Groups in integrating the AMSP in their respective work plans and in tracking their progress. This could ensure that the AMSP serves as the guiding document for the Arctic Council’s marine work. In addition, SAOs may also have a role to play in communicating the science contained within the AMSP to policy makers and to coordinate the implementation priorities outlined in the AMSP domestically.

These ideas are closely related to each other: If the AMSP is going to be revised, then the SAOs can play a role in driving this forward.

Sustainable Arctic Shipping: Defining what is sustainable in Arctic waters

Magnús Jóhannesson is Special Adviser for Arctic Affairs to the Icelandic Chairmanship of the Arctic Council and he moderated the second thematic webinar, which was themed sustainable Arctic shipping. The session’s expert panel included presenters from the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the Aleut International Association, Russia’s largest shipping company, Sovcomflot, the Icelandic Transport Authority and the British Antarctic Survey.

Magnús Jóhannesson summarizes:

From the experts' presentations and interventions it seems to be very clear that we will see an increase in Arctic shipping in the years to come. One projection estimated a six-fold increase of transport in the Northern Sea Route only from extraction of natural resources in the Russian Arctic and some experts believe that we can expect container shipping in the Arctic in a just few years. So, for the Arctic Council to have an impact on sustainable shipping practices in the Arctic, it was felt that we need to broaden our approach and focus.

It was interesting to see that there is a movement from ship owners to reduce the climate impact of shipping in the Arctic. We learned that Sovcomflot already is retrofitting their tankers to operate with liquefied natural gas (LNG), which has a significant lesser climatic impact than conventional marine engines. We also heard about studies here in Iceland, both of cleaning the exhaust from the conventional engines with scrubbing and filters and testing alternative fuels with a lesser carbon footprint. Sustainable development in any sector will not be fruitful unless we involve the sector itself, so if the Arctic Council wants to promote sustainable Arctic shipping it is important to collaborate with the shipping sector operating in the Arctic. Improving the infrastructure for sustainable Arctic shipping might also require public private partnership.

Concrete suggestions for the Arctic Council included the effort to define sustainable Arctic shipping. As the IMO pointed out: the criteria for sustainable shipping might be different from one region to another. Thus, there is a role for the Arctic Council to help the IMO in defining sustainable shipping in the Arctic – a good example of cooperation between the Council and a global regulatory body.

Regional Coordination of Marine Issues and Global Commitments: A question of leadership

Coordinating marine issues in a network of regional and global agreements and commitments is a challenging task – as the third webinar demonstrated.

Mary Frances Davidson moderated the webinar and summarizes the discussions:

Whatever is happening in the Arctic has an impact on the rest of the world and whatever is going on in the rest of the world, has an impact on the Arctic – as the keynote speaker outlined. We are part of an interconnected system, thus a holistic approach is required, and the fundamental question we built the discussions around was: What kind of leadership role does the Arctic Council want to play?

If we look at any issue facing the Arctic marine environment, we see how complex these are and that solutions must cut across the traditional silos. For instance, if we are talking about managing an ecosystem, we need to incorporate different cultures, industries and nations. We need to work in cooperation rather than in isolation.

There is a mosaic of existing and emerging international marine policy instruments: the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the treaty on Marine Biodiversity in Areas beyond National Jurisdiction, International Agreement to Prevent Unregulated Fishing in the High Seas of the Central Arctic Ocean – to just name a few. It is clear that management is coming to the Arctic and the Arctic Council needs to decide what its leadership role will look like. Much good work is already happening, in the Working Groups and in close cooperation with the Permanent Participants. Thus, there was consensus that whatever new leadership role the Arctic Council sees for itself, the contributions of the Working Groups and the voices of the Permanent Participants is something to preserve and build upon.

Ecosystem-based management: A possible pilot project

The Arctic Council defines ecosystem-based management (EBM) as the comprehensive, integrated management of human activities based on best available scientific and traditional knowledge about the ecosystem and its dynamics, in order to identify and take action on influences that are critical to the health of ecosystems, thereby achieving sustainable use of ecosystem goods and services and maintenance of ecosystem integrity. The concept is an important cornerstone for the Council’s marine coordination ambitions and hence was the topic of the fourth and last thematic webinar.

Moderator Magnús Jóhannesson summarizes:

One key point that emerged from the discussions was that EBM is not only good for the environment, it is also good business. It is a process that also looks at marine uses and societal gains with a broad approach to environmental management. PAME’s Expert Group on the Ecosystem Approach has undertaken very good groundwork on the concept. Now, the panellists agreed, the time has come to move EBM into practice with a pilot project.

It was apparent that we need broader participation in the work, especially from marine managers and stakeholders, when we move into the implementation phase. The experts called upon Arctic States to ensure the engagement of people in the respective national administrations that are involved in marine management to join the Arctic Council work.
EBM is a complex process and it is a cyclical, iterative process based on learning by doing. By launching a pilot project, it was felt that we can find solutions to many of the challenges that we can see at the forefront.

Encouraging outcomes

In closing their summaries of the thematic webinars, we asked Mary Frances Davidson and Magnús Jóhannesson: What outcomes and discussion points surprised you?

Mary Frances Davidson, Magnús Jóhannesson and Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson at the final webinar.

Magnús Jóhannesson: I was surprised to see the consensus amongst the experts on moving into a pilot project on ecosystem-based management with a good support coming from the Permanent Participants. And listening to the Senior Arctic Officials during the closing session of the webinar series, I could feel that the Marine Mechanism already has had an impact. The main ambition with this format as proposed by the TFAMC was to bring expert knowledge and opinions on emerging marine issues to the SAOs, which they in turn could leverage for next steps and decision making.

Mary Frances Davidson: There were two things that surprised me. Firstly, when we started out with the series, the entire point was to gather expertise so that the experts could speak directly to the SAOs. And what surprised me throughout all the sessions was the level of consensus and the good work that is already going on. Secondly, we talked much about breaking down silos and to work across Working Groups, disciplines, and industries. While I was first sceptical about moving the SAO based Marine Mechanism into a virtual format, I now think the digital platform is a way to break down some of these silos. In the original plan, people would only be able to attend one of these sessions. By presenting it this way, people were able to move into a conversation that they maybe did not know so much about.

Title photo by Rolf Gelpke on Unsplash