There are more and more questions about the work of environmentalists in the Arctic

Environmental protection activities in the Arctic are carried out not only by government agencies, but also attract many different non-profit structures such as large international environmental organizations and small regional groups of eco-activists. However, while the effective work of a few environmental movements often does not get into the information space, the activities of major players in this area are actively promoted on various media platforms, although it does not have any socially significant consequences for the preservation of ecology in the Arctic.

World Wildlife Fund

In April 2022, the activity of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in the eastern region of the Russian Arctic caused a great resonance, where environmentalists are trying to create a 12-mile buffer zone along the coast of the East Siberian and Chukchi Seas. However, as noted at an expanded meeting of the Committee on Industrial and Agricultural Policy of the Duma of the Chukotka Autonomous District, such initiatives go beyond the agreement with environmentalists in the field of environmental protection signed in 2019. Local citizens and authorities of the Chukchi region opposed the implementation of such projects, fearing negative consequences for the traditional lifestyle of indigenous peoples and the development of the Northern Sea Route. It is noteworthy that there are practically no harmful industries in Chukotka that pose threats to the existence of local wildlife, and therefore the feasibility of implementing such initiatives is questioned by many experts.

This is not the first time the interests of ecologists from the World Fund have clashed with representatives of the local population of the Arctic region. Back in 2016, WWF, following the general trends for the development of a network of specially protected natural areas, chose the creation of a national park in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug on the territory of Vaigach Island as a priority area of work. Under the plausible occasion of the need to protect the Red Book bird species, the staff of the WWF Barents branch tried to impose a number of restrictions on their traditional way of life on the Nenets, which accompanied the tightening of the nature management regime on the territory of their ancestral residence. Then the local population, with the support of human rights organizations and regional authorities, managed to defend their interests, but environmentalists continued to work on “protecting nature” in a more remote region of the Russian Arctic, such as the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug.

The environmental projects under consideration are actively funded by the states of the Barents region, as well as at the expense of the WWF headquarters in Germany. For their own purposes, the Nordic countries and ecologists from the World Fund have developed a special program for the creation of specially protected natural areas in the Arctic “Barents Protected Area Network” (BPAN). However, despite numerous harmful industries in Norway, Sweden and Finland, for some reason their own territories do not fall into the sphere of interests of Europeans, but only the “vulnerable” circumpolar regions of Russia.

Barents Protected Area Network

A similar situation and commitment to double standards in Europe can be observed in the field of wildlife conservation. A number of northern states, despite the decline in domestic demand, continue to issue permits for the slaughter of whales, and the Norwegian government has stated that its whalers in 2022 may kill hundreds of minke whales. At the same time, only the Whale Protection Fund, known for its projects to save the Greenland seals of the White Sea, is fighting this barbaric fishery, and not the international and authoritative WWF organization.

Some areas of work of the World Wildlife Fund are really beneficial for the conservation of biodiversity and contribute to the protection of the environment. For example, the Bear Patrol project, covering the waters and coastal areas from the Barents to the Chukchi Sea, helps in combating poaching activities and reduces the likelihood of a sudden encounter with a polar bear. But despite the positive experience, the efforts of environmentalists from WWF are mostly directed at the creation of any areas closed to nature use, while often adjacent or passing through important transport hubs or areas of great economic importance.

WWF could not provide a convincing environmental justification for its project to create a 12-mile buffer zone in the coastal waters of the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, and in response to criticism from the local population, it only offered to start a dialogue to resolve the current conflict. Nevertheless, environmentalists should still do their direct duties and take a closer look at many polluting industries in the Northern European countries, and not try to create numerous protected areas and territories in remote and ecologically clean areas of the Arctic, the expediency of which is under great question.

3 - Environmentalists in the Arctic