CPAWS welcomes joint Canada-USA commitment to protect the Arctic

Vancouver, B.C – The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) today welcomed the announcement that all Arctic Canadian waters will be designated off limits for future oil and gas licensing, indefinitely, along with a number of other new commitments to ensuring the long term protection of sensitive Arctic ecosystems.

“We are pleased to see the government of Canada take these first critical steps to ensure that our Arctic ecosystems are well protected in light of the uncertain future that climate change brings,” noted Sabine Jessen, CPAWS’ National Ocean Program Director.

The announcement was made as part of the United States-Canada Joint Arctic Leaders’ Statement. The statement included commitments to establish low impact shipping corridors and support sustainable fishing practices that benefit Northern communities. Canada will co-develop a new Arctic Policy Framework with indigenous communities and Northerners that will replace Canada’s existing Northern Strategy. The commitments also include working to protect the future of the last remaining area of summer ice and advancing renewable energy in northern communities.

“A moratorium on new oil and gas licenses in the Arctic will go a long way to protecting fragile Arctic marine ecosystems and species, like whales, polar bears and seabirds, from the risks of a catastrophic oil spill, ” said Jessen. “This announcement makes it very clear that the Arctic is no place for oil and gas activities. We recently saw Shell Oil relinquish its oil and gas licenses around the proposed Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area, and we hope that other existing licenses in Arctic waters will follow suit.”

In the Statement, Canada and the USA have both committed to limiting the impacts of shipping through the Arctic by identifying sustainable shipping lanes and looking at other protection measures like emergency response and Areas To Be Avoided, which could keep ships out of critical habitat for sensitive species and ecosystems, like whale feeding grounds. “Shipping has significant impacts on marine ecosystems and wildlife, including the risk of oil, fuel and cargo spills; collision with whales; disturbance of seabirds and other marine species and noise pollution. But these impacts are often overlooked in Canada’s MPAs, so we are pleased to see that they will be addressed in the Arctic” said Jessen.

Canada has also committed to work with northern and indigenous communities to ensure that Canada’s Arctic fisheries are well managed and benefit Northern communities, although the statement does not provide any detail on how this will be achieved.

“CPAWS is concerned that, in the face of climate change, receding ice cover threatens to open new areas of the Arctic for exploitation by shipping and commercial fishing, added Jessen.  “Arctic marine ecosystems are extremely sensitive, these species have not adapted to high levels of human activity, and many of them grow and reproduce very slowly, making them vulnerable to new industrial activities,” said Jessen. “We hope that future actions by Canada and the US will include a commitment to a network of marine protected areas in the Arctic that will protect the ecologically significant areas found in this globally important region.