The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) warned today that by the year 2050, up to 80 per cent of the Arctic would be affected by mining, oil exploration, and other man-made impacts if the industrialization of one of the world's last wilderness areas continued at current rates.
In a new report presented today to a meeting on Arctic environmental cooperation in Rovaniemi, Finland, UNEP said the region's rich and abundant wildlife, especially reindeer, caribou, polar bears, wolves and brown bears, would suffer from the development of the region.
UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said the impact would be far-reaching, leading to "increasing pressure on the lifestyles of indigenous peoples as well as on precious habitats and ecosystems in an area of the world vital for wildlife and for regulating the Earth's climate."
According to the report, development of the Arctic threatens the very existence of many different groups of indigenous people who rely on hunting and herding of reindeer and caribou to survive. In addition, Arctic birds suffer when development leads to the drainage of wetlands. Studies indicate that traffic noise can cause a variety of bird populations to fall by as much as 44 per cent near new roads.
The Arctic region is experiencing growth in oil, gas and mineral extraction, transportation networks and non-indigenous settlements, according to the report. Various plans are under way to extend this activity into new regions such as the Yamal Peninsula of Russia, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and the Barents Sea region. At the same time, developers are working to build a vast new seaway around the "roof of the world" through a 5,600-kilometre stretch of water running from the Barents Sea in the west to the Bering Strait in the east.
The meeting, which marks 10 years of Arctic environmental cooperation, has attracted the participation of ministers from the Arctic Council member countries, indigenous leaders, international agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Founded in 1996, the Arctic Council is comprised of Canada, Denmark/Greenland, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States.