The BSPC Working Group on Climate Change and Biodiversity assembled in Tromsø, Norway, dealing with expert presentations and the newest research results from the Norwegian Polar Institute, the Institute of Marine Research and the Arctic Council. The working group dealt with the dramatic effects of climate change in the Arctic and its impact on biodiversity, with consequences for the entire planet. About 20 participants from the Baltic Assembly, the German Bundestag, Hamburg, Latvia, Lithuania, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Norway, Poland and Sweden attended the deliberations.
Working group chair Mr Philipp da Cunha opened the session in Tromsø, Norway. He highlighted the importance of seeing the rapid changes wrought by climate change in person in the Arctic where the effects were progressing at three to four times the speed of the rest of the world.
The expert presentations were introduced by Ms Lene Westgaard-Halle who underlined that the Norwegian Polar Institute was the premier institution on environmental monitoring, mapping of both Polar regions.
Ms Nalan Koc, Research Director, Norwegian Polar Institute, explained that Norway believed research provided the basis for excellent management of the High North. Twenty institutions, like the Polar Institute, were united under the research umbrella. Her own institution, launched originally in 1906, was a directorate immediately associated with the Norwegian ministry of the environment, providing scientific research and management advice to the government regarding the polar regions. They handled topological and geographic mapping of Svalbard, Jan Mayen and Norwegian claims and territories in Antarctica. In the Arctic, they focused on Svalbard, Jan Mayen, the Arctic Ocean, and the Barents Sea, while in Antarctica, Dronning Maud Land, Peter I Øy, Bouvetøya and adjacent seas were their centres of attention. Their understanding of these regions fed directly into their management. Headquartered at the Fram Centre, Tromsø, it had research facilities in Sverdrup and Ny Ålesund as well as its own research vessel, the icebreaker Kronprins Haakon, and a zeppelin observatory. Thus, they were covering both land- and sea-based research in the Arctic and Antarctica.
A wide array of research infrastructure had been established at both the North and South Pole which they were sharing, e.g., through an EU-monitored project called ARICE (Arctic Research ICEbreaker Council). Thus, the Kronprins Haakon was made available for international researchers without such marine resources available to them. A class 3 icebreaker, the ship could operate throughout the entire year, providing berths for 35 scientists on expeditions of up to 65 days. Moreover, the Svalbard Integrated Arctic Earth Observing System was a cooperating research infrastructure for improved knowledge of environmental and climatic change in the Arctic. The local instrumentation was open to other academics. Furthermore, there was a database providing all the research data gathered so far. The Polar Institute coordinated the research to make it as effective as possible. Since 1968, the Ny-Ålesund Research Station had served as an observatory, laboratory and field base for arctic research and environmental monitoring. It was also open to any researchers interested in the work. First set up in 2005, the station Troll in Antarctica was operating year-round with a minimum crew of 6 persons.
Ms Koc described the wide and interdisciplinary range of natural science studies implemented in the Polar Institute’s work, considering among others climate change and monitoring, biodiversity, glaciers, and oceanography. She underlined that these efforts were indispensable but also very expensive. At the same time, to cover these huge areas, international cooperation was crucial.
During the field work, ice cores had been harvested that documented the last 800,000 years of the climate. These showed that the current, human-caused levels of carbon dioxide were unprecedented, exceeding the maximums of ca. 300 ppm during the interglacial periods and reaching peaks of 420 ppm today. As for temperatures, a global rise of about 1 °C could be documented since the first records in 1880. The land areas were warming faster than the oceans. Furthermore, the Arctic was warming three to four times quicker than the rest of the globe. This “Arctic Amplification” also meant that containing global warming to 1.5 °C by the end of the century, as per the Paris Agreement, would still correspond to a rise of 3 – 5 °C in the Arctic. Already, the summer ice was thinning rapidly, reaching extreme lows in ice coverage in 2007 and 2012. Overall, some 40 % of ice coverage had been lost since 1980. With less solar energy reflected back by ice, the oceans were warming even faster, creating and reinforcing the amplification effect. At the same time, the winter storm cycle had accelerated, contributing to breaking up sea ice. Ms Koc quoted the IPCC predictions, indicating very little sea ice in the Arctic summer by mid-century. She added that the models for Arctic climate modelling were too conservative, though, and had to be updated to reflect current data, in particular the thinner ice layers, and new research.
On the Polar Institute’s 2022 Arctic Cruise, two new moorings were installed to monitor data in addition to the 30-year-old moorings in the Fram Strait. This was to investigate what was happening in the central Arctic Ocean, specifically changes to the hydrography or chemistry and their effects on the ecosystem. In addition, they were pursuing the project SUDARCO with partner organisations in order to research risks to value chains and ecosystem services.
Focusing on Svalbard, Ms Koc explained that local temperatures had risen by 6 °C in the past 100 years, leading to shrinking glaciers and now the occurrence of rain rather than snow, generating ice on the ground. Previously, fauna could dig through snow to get to the vegetation below, but ice proved an impenetrable barrier.
Ms Koc concluded that there is hardly any region on earth warming as fast as the Arctic Ocean, opening up previously inaccessible areas and already affecting the ecosystem. Thus, new data was needed to enable effective management. Furthermore, Arctic changes were affecting the weather patterns in the whole northern hemisphere: What had been a relatively stable polar jet stream had become wavy, sending cold air as far south as Florida in the US and drawing warm air as far as Svalbard. At the same time, pollution was also pulled northwards into the pristine Arctic region.
BSPC Secretary General Bodo Bahr raised the question about the intensity of political and public awareness and reactions, citing United Nations Secretary General António Guterres who pointed out a few days before at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that “our world is at a crossroads and our planet is at the crosshairs”, that “we are nearing the point of no return” and that “we are at the tip of the tipping point”. Ms Nalan Koc noted that the Polar Institute was advising and informing the Norwegian government. Ms Westgaard-Halle added that politics was aware of the severity of the problem, but there was a gap to the understanding of the public. BSPC President Johannes Schraps underlined that politicians had to make decisions rather than scientists informing them. Prof Jānis Vucāns asked for clarification if sea ice was now melting from both above and below which Ms Koc confirmed. Mr Andrius Mazuronis pointed to the global nature of carbon dioxide emissions, in particular huge countries such as China, India or Russia, inquiring about interest from these countries. Mr Jarosław Wałęsa wondered about the natural share of the otherwise human-caused increase in CO2. Ms Westgaard-Halle asked if there was ocean acidification.
Ms Nalan Koc confirmed that the Polar Institute was working on acidification and chemical composition of the Arctic Ocean and would publish a respective paper soon. She further explained that they could derive trends from their data, showing that warming effects would happen faster than predicted in the IPCC report. As for international interest and participation, she pointed to a wide range of nations, including scientists from China, South Korea, Japan, India – going well beyond the Arctic countries.
Dr Lis Lindal Jørgensen, Institute of Marine Research, explained that the environment was shifting very fast. Thus, adaptation to these changes was necessary. The title of her speech posited whether a 100 % sustainable management was possible. One of the largest such institutions in Europe, the Institute of Marine Research was concerned with monitoring, research, and advisory work. It was associated with the ministry of fishery. They provided the catch advice on 80 fish stocks as well as advising all aquaculture in Norway. At the same time, they researched the entire ecosystem towards the goal of an ecosystem-based management. The Institute had set itself the vision of clean and rich oceans and coastal areas. Part of that was sustaining biodiversity and halting the loss of species. A biodiverse ecosystem might suffer many pressures but had the potential to evade them, while a monoculture with one or two species could be wiped out with relatively little pressure. She explained that the former described the resilience of the ecosystem. Moreover, a preservation of biodiversity was called for by the UN’s new International Biodiversity Agreement, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and international agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.
Dr Jørgensen noted that Norway was an ocean country – its sea area was six times larger than the landmass. Including all the fjords and bays, its coastline stretched for 25,000 kilometres. Moreover, the Norwegian sea had a mean depth of 2,000 metres. That meant a huge challenge for management. To that end, the Institute deployed a minimum of two ships at any time on the oceans, increasing to a whole fleet in the summer. Concerning the Arctic, she offered more details on the Barents Sea. The survey cooperation there had been going for a century by now, with more than 400 stations monitoring biodiversity, the entire water column, the climate – temperature, salinity etc. –, zooplankton, fish, pelagic and benthic species, marine mammals as well as sea birds. Their ships were packed with scientists of all disciplines. In the Barents Sea, the volume of Arctic water had been shrinking since the 1960s while the share of Atlantic water had been rising. Likewise, the Atlantic biodiversity of fish was expanding northward whereas the Arctic species were decreasing. Arctic fish were small and lived on the seabed, some 230 metres below the surface in the Barents Sea. As the sea floor further north dropped to 4,000 metres, they had to migrate eastwards. However, some fish species’ stocks were currently improving, although the warming of the water limited that expansion. All of these processes had to be understood, she insisted.
Looking at the thousands of species on the sea bed, Dr Jørgensen noted that the Institute had found that fish trawls contained up to 100 species of benthos, allowing cost-effective surveillance with onboard capacities. This showed that since 2005, there had been a general change of dominance from Arctic to boreal species. Based on the findings of where vulnerable species were found, corridors had been locked off from trawling. Since 2019, those areas freshly freed from ice were being researched and temporarily banned before corridors could be established. Conversely, the fishermen’s work in the acceptable areas was rated as sustainable.
Putting together the data on fish and benthic species with those on marine mammals, birds and zooplankton, the Institute was seeking to build a holistic understanding of how the ecosystem was functioning. Cross- and trans-disciplinary approaches were necessary for that; at the same time, this was the way forward. Moreover, more cost- and time-efficient monitoring had to be implemented.
To establish 100 % sustainable ocean management, she called for an integrated management approach combining all the measures, from completely restricted to entirely free-use areas. A whole web of measures had to be put in place, based on the whole of understanding of the ecosystem. Yet, this also had to take into account the entirety of human activities affecting the ecosystem. As an example, she noted the noise coming from trawling or tourism. That would lead to a holistic risk assessment of the area for the respective species. In the view of Dr Jørgensen, this should be distilled into a simplified risk map, much like the weather forecast, so that it would be easy to see what actions were to be taken. An example would be that beluga whales were travelling through one area from June to August, so that should be avoided. All of this meant an ecosystem-based approach – a comprehensive system of management based on the best available scientific data.
Dr Jørgensen underlined that very few of these areas and measures were constrained to one nation, making peaceful international cooperation indispensable. At the same time, it was also necessary to unite divergent views of sustainability; here, she mentioned Arctic indigenous peoples compared to multinational companies. She concluded by posing a number of questions to the politicians that were needed to direct the ecosystem-based approach, such as the objectives or the international interaction.
Ms Anna Kassautzki mentioned that Germany was seeking a way to make fishery ecologically and economically sustainable, in the face of a huge crisis in the Baltic Sea. This was done in conjunction with the industry and with science. Currently, they were developing a database with all the information. Ms Emma Nohrén saw a deficiency in the data reflecting caught fish in tonnes but not the age or health composition. Mr Johannes Schraps inquired how the Russian aggression against Ukraine was impacting the Institute’s work, as the Arctic waters were shared. Prof Jānis Vucāns considered only the holistic perception of the Baltic Sea viable, raising the issue of invasive species that had to be resolved internationally. Mr Philipp da Cunha wondered if there was a best practice example for the integrated management approach. Mr Bodo Bahr wondered if the Norwegian Institute was also cooperating with researchers from the Baltic Sea or other oceans. In that respect, he mentioned HELCOM and their decades-long work.
Dr Lis Lindal Jørgensen said she read a lot about HELCOM’s work, and some of her colleagues were cooperating. International programmes were highly important in her view. Moving on, she explained there would be an international conference in the next year elaborating the integrated management approach. She noted that the data need was immense. Regarding the Ukraine war, she conceded that there were considerable challenges, but on the fisheries’ work, Norway had decided to continue the scientific collaboration.
Ms Kristina Bär, Head of Communications, Arctic Council Secretariat, gave an overview of the Arctic Council. The secretariat was the administrative body, she explained. The Arctic Council was the leading intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among Arctic states and Arctic indigenous peoples. As such, it was a soft law organisation, established in 1996 to focus on environmental issues and sustainable development. Among their fields of interest were Arctic peoples, biodiversity, climate, the ocean, pollutants, and emergencies.
The eight Arctic states were those that had territories above the Arctic circle. Furthermore, the six permanent participants were organisations representing either one or several indigenous peoples – covering 40 peoples of 650,000 individuals in total – living in the Arctic. Ms Bär highlighted the unique feature that these had full consultation rights with any decisions. Moving on, there were six working groups and one expert group dealing with different issues, such as contaminants, monitoring and assessment, or sustainable development. In addition, there were 38 observers: 13 non-Arctic states, 13 intergovernmental and interparliamentary organisations, and 12 non-governmental organisations. She underlined that these contributed expertise in working groups rather than being passive.
Looking at the working group concerned with biodiversity, namely, Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), she said that the findings were taken to the government and the residents. Monitoring, assessment, and expert research provided a good overview of the Arctic’s biodiversity thanks to their Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Programme (CBMP). This brought together national experts, governments, indigenous people to look at the core ecosystems in the Arctic: freshwater, marine, terrestrial, and coastal. They also investigated Arctic migratory birds as well as wildfires and mainstreaming biodiversity in mining operations.
Every two years, there was a ministerial meeting setting the overall course. The chairmanship was rotated at this meeting, so that the current Russian chairmanship would be transferred to Norway in May 2023. The Senior Arctic Officials – usually government representatives – were overseeing the regular work which happened in the subsidiaries, the working and expert groups. The secretariat, funded by the 8 Arctic states, supported the work of the council’s chair. One of the major achievements of the Arctic Council were three legally binding agreements negotiated under their auspices, concerning enhanced international scientific cooperation, cooperation on marine oil pollution, and search and rescue.
Mr Rolf Rødven, Arctic Council, Executive Secretary for the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, explained that they were monitoring and assessing the levels of pollutants, the impact of climate change, and the effects on the ecosystem. With their scientific assessments, this programme advised both the Arctic Council as well as organisations like the IPCC or the WHO as well as HELCOM. Their work included harmonising data to ensure that measurement errors were eliminated.
As for climate change, the Arctic was getting much warmer, three times faster than the rest of the world – 3 degrees since 1971. Precipitation had increased by 10 %, with a lot more rain than snow. The permafrost was thawing while the sea ice had shrunk by half and land ice had also decreased. The layers in the sea were mixing more strongly. That, he pointed out, was affecting the societies living in the Arctic. The 4 million people mostly lived in small settlements, with some 64 % located on permafrost. The hunting season had shortened due to sludge. Transport generally was limited as driving on permafrost was no longer possible in many areas. Just in Alaska, permafrost thaw was expected to increase the infrastructure maintenance cost by 5.5 billion US dollars by 2100. Another effect was ocean acidification, showing some of the fastest rates in the Arctic. This worked to dissolve snail shells, endangering the animals. The combined warming and growing acidification greatly increased the mortality of juvenile cod in the Barents Sea. Thus, the permitted catch quota had to be lowered to one sixth, reducing the revenue from 285 million US dollars to just 37. To counter this gloomy scenario, Mr Rødven mentioned the various pledges at recent COPs to reduce carbon dioxide as well as methane in order to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Mr Jens Toft, Arctic Council Secretariat, Project Coordinator on Youth Engagement, talked about the manifold interaction of CAFF with youth engagement. One of them was the Arctic Youth Summit, held in 2018 in Finland, which had dealt with biodiversity. The resulting Arctic Youth declaration had called for empowering Arctic youth voices, increased opportunities, and raising awareness of Arctic issues. Another organisation was the Arctic Youth Network, connecting more than 800 Arctic young people, aiming to give young people a greater voice in Arctic affairs. CAFF had facilitated youth exchanges between their member states, permanent participants, and observers. Moreover, they had arranged fellowships with the International Arctic Science Committee and the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists as well as internships.
Online tool kits had been provided for teachers and young students, translated into various languages, such as Sami or Russian. Finally, a Youth Advisory Team had helped CAFF guide their Arctic youth engagement strategy. This was a six-year project outlining the need and value of youth engagement to develop creative solutions, supporting diversity, lowering of barriers and professional growth. One of the goals was to have the youths develop skills in biodiversity and related fields to take home and apply there.
BSPC President Johannes Schraps pointed out the BSPC’s youth engagement through the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Youth Forum. He suggested an invitation of Arctic Youths to the forum in August. He asked about Russia’s involvement in the Arctic Council. Ms Nohrén wondered what topics were of interest to youths. Mr da Cunha inquired whether young people were leaving the environmentally challenged areas. Given shared interests (and a number of member states), he proposed a collaboration for the future. Prof Vucāns was interested in the Arctic view of the planned project of a Nordic Silk Road. Mr Bahr wondered if there was work on legally binding agreements in combating climate change.
Mr Jens Toft explained that he was working on recommendations how to increase the outreach material to youths and increase their involvement. In general, youths had to be included in matters affecting them, in a meaningful way. He confirmed that young people in the Arctic regions were moving south to more resilient areas. At the same time, national initiatives sought to increase the attractiveness of northern regions.
Ms Kristina Bär added that a project – currently on hold – dealt with Arctic demography displaying gender balance, age distribution and the like in each region. That showed quite a variety of these factors. Regarding the ministerial meeting, she explained that the Russian chairmanship was planning on hosting it in Siberia. It would be in hybrid form. On the idea of a Nordic Silk Road, she explained that this project was more on the national level and therefore not a topic of the Arctic Council.
Mr Rolf Rødven explained that climate agreements were usually negotiated based on national conventions and were not as binding as other international agreements. Rather than that, the Arctic Council’s recommendations were taken into account by the national governments. He doubted that in the current conditions, a joint legal agreement of the eight Arctic states was likely. Otherwise, despite the challenges in the past year, their work was ongoing, targeting a new report for 2024.
Survey among the Governments
Working Group Chairman Philipp da Cunha explained that the working group had directed a survey at the BSPC governments concerning climate change and biodiversity. The detailed replies had been published in a compilation on the BSPC website. An additional question on the effects of the war in Ukraine on climate policy goals and their implementation had been submitted with the last resolution. Should the answers affect the recommendations by the working group, the chairman invited the members to submit such considerations by 17 April 2023.
The 32nd BSPC Annual Conference in Berlin
Regarding the conference, BSPC President Johannes Schraps remarked that a session was dedicated to the topic of the working group. That was still in the planning stage, with several speakers confirmed, although he considered inviting Dr Lis Lindal Jørgensen from the earlier presentations since her considerations might prove enlightening. He underlined that this was a vital session since the Final Report of the working group would be presented there. The report would become an integral part of this year’s resolution.
Prof Jānis Vucāns asked about chairpersons for the sessions, volunteering the Baltic States for the session on peaceful neighbourliness. Mr Schraps and Mr Bahr explained that proposals from the delegations would be asked for, and the matter would be approached before the next Standing Committee meeting.
The Final Report of the Working Group
WG Chairman Philipp da Cunha remarked that the Final Report could be structured like the Interim Reports, with the detailed contents available on the website. BSPC President Johannes Schraps suggested to take into account to involve previous members of the Working Group, among them the former chairwoman, Ms Cecilie Tenfjord-Toftby, in the preparation of the report. Secretary General Bodo Bahr considered that a chapter on best practice examples from the individual countries could be added, as per the suggestions of the delegations. Prof Jānis Vucāns and Ms Lene Westgaard-Halle discussed the report.
BSPC WG CCB Chairman Philipp da Cunha noted that the governments had been asked to comment on the BSPC’s resolution from Stockholm. The regional parliament of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern had accepted the resolution as a whole, he noted. Secretary General Bodo Bahr added that a reply from the German federal government had already been received. A compilation would be put together and distributed.
Mr Jesper Josefsson of the Åland delegation and Mr Jarosław Wałęsa, Head of the Polish delegation to the BSPC were appointed Vice-Chairmen of the BSPC Working Group on Climate Change and Biodiversity.
Regarding the upcoming final meeting of the working group in May in Gdansk, WG Vice-Chair Jarosław Wałęsa, BSPC President Johannes Schraps and Ms Anna Kassautzki discussed the programme and suggested speakers or invitees.
After the negotiations, a guided Polaria tour through the world’s most northerly aquarium opened a deep insight into the Arctic environment.
One of the highlights was a panoramic film showcasing the singularity of the Arctic. It was a mesmerising experience that gave the WG a glimpse into the unique natural phenomena in the Arctic.
The tour also included a presentation about the impact of climate change on the Arctic ecosystem and its effects on the polar bear population. The presentation highlighted the importance of conservation efforts and individuals’ role in protecting the Arctic environment. It was an eye-opening experience that underlined the urgency of taking action to protect our planet.
Another exciting part of the tour was a training session for the seals. The WG witnessed the trainers working with the seals and teaching them various skills. It was fascinating to see the intelligence and agility of these animals up close.
Ms Anne Grete Johansen, the director of Polaria, provided a presentation about the Polaria future plans. The WG also discussed international cooperation with similar institutions in this field.
The guided Polaria Tour was ideal for learning about the Arctic environment and its challenges. It was an excellent opportunity to witness the beauty and uniqueness of the Arctic and learn more about the efforts being made to protect it.
Furthermore, the BSPC WG CCB Took a guided tour of the Polar Museum Tromsø.
The participants valued that an impressive experience. The museum is dedicated to showcasing the cultural history of the Arctic and the polar expeditions that have taken place throughout history.
During the tour, the WG learned about the many explorers who have ventured into the Arctic, including Roald Amundsen, Fridtjof Nansen, and Umberto Nobile, and saw the artefacts and equipment used on the expeditions. The participants also learned about the history of whaling in the Arctic and its impact on the region’s environment.
Additionally, the museum features exhibits on the indigenous people of the Arctic, including the Sami people and their traditional way of life. The participants had the opportunity to see traditional clothing, tools, and other artefacts that showcase the rich cultural heritage of the Arctic.
The presentation in the Polar Museum was a fascinating and informative experience on the history of Arctic exploration and the region’s cultural heritage.
The participants of the WG meeting deepened the discussed issues and the day’s experiences in further conversations.