The Arctic is home to over 21,000 species, including many globally significant populations of unique and highly cold-adapted mammals, birds, fish, invertebrates, plants, fungi and microorganisms, some found nowhere else on Earth. In addition to its intrinsic worth, Arctic biodiversity provides innumerable services and values to people. More than a tenth of the world’s fish catches by weight come from Arctic and sub-Arctic seas. The Arctic is the breeding ground for millions of migratory birds that fly to every continent, connecting the region with the rest of the world and contributing to global biodiversity.
The Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF - www.caff.is), the biodiversity working group of the Arctic Council has released the “Arctic Biodiversity Assessment (ABA - www.arcticbiodiversity.is ),” a report containing the best available science informed by traditional ecological knowledge on the status and trends of Arctic biodiversity and accompanying policy recommendations for biodiversity conservation.
The ABA, involving over 260 scientists has been produced by some of the world’s leading experts and was presented to the Foreign Ministers of the Arctic Council countries at the Arctic Council Ministerial on May 15. This major circumpolar effort provides a much needed description of the state of biodiversity in the Arctic and:
- creates a baseline for use in global and regional assessments of Arctic biodiversity
- provides up-to-date knowledge gathered from scientific publications supplemented with insights from traditional knowledge holders;
- identifies gaps in the data record;
- describes key mechanisms driving change; and
- presents science-based suggestions for action on addressing major pressures on Arctic biodiversity.
The recommendations from the ABA will help shape Arctic conservation in the years to come. It articulates how the environment is changing and signals to policymakers what needs to be done to secure the ecosystems and species that people rely on for life and livelihood.
Arctic biodiversity is being degraded, but decisive action taken now can help sustain the vast, relatively undisturbed ecosystems of tundra, mountains, fresh water and seas and the valuable services they provide, says the report. This globally unique opportunity for proactive action can minimize or prevent problems that would be costly or impossible to reverse in the future. The key findings of the ABA deal with the:
- significance of climate change as the most serious underlying driver of overall change in biodiversity;
- necessity of taking an ecosystem-based approach to management; and
- importance of mainstreaming biodiversity by making it integral to other policy fields, for example, in development, plans and operations.