Download the Preface by the ABA and CAFF Chairmen

Download the Foreword by the Chief Scientist

Preface by the ABA and the CAFF Chairmen

Photo: NASAThe eyes of the world are turning northwards. In recent years, interest in the Arctic has increased dramatically within and outside of Arctic countries. This is reflected in the amount of attention given to Arctic biodiversity. While the landscapes and wildlife have been the subject of explorers, scientists, artists and photographers as well as the home of a variety of peoples for a long time, until recently Arctic biodiversity did not feature very prominently in national or international policy work.

This, however, is changing, as the unique values of Arctic nature are increasingly discussed at high levels. At the same time, more and more attention has been paid to the interface between science and policy to ensure that policy is built on the best science available.

We are therefore very happy and proud to present the Arctic Biodiversity Assessment (ABA), which has been seven years in the making. It is the result of the contributions from over 250 scientists together with holders of traditional knowledge.

The chapters in the main document, which you are holding now, have been peer reviewed by over 100 scientists from all over the Arctic and the rest of the world. We are very grateful for the efforts they have made to ensure the quality of this assessment. We would especially like to thank chief scientist Hans Meltofte and the lead authors of the chapters.

In order to communicate the findings presented in this scientific work and to inform policy makers, the board of the Arctic Council’s working group on the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) has prepared a summary of the key findings and developed policy recommendations. The key findings and recommendations have been provided in a separate document, which we trust will be useful for all those who make decisions that may affect Arctic biodiversity.

The Arctic is home to a vast array of biodiversity, including many globally significant populations. Included among these are 30% of the world’s shorebird species, two thirds of the global numbers of geese, several million reindeer and caribou, and many unique mammals, such as the polar bear. During the short summer breeding season, almost 200 species of birds arrive from almost all parts of the world, connecting the Arctic with the rest of the globe. We therefore hope that the ABA will be consulted frequently within as well as outside of the Arctic.

Biodiversity is life. It is the very foundation of our existence on Earth. In the Arctic, links between biodiversity and traditional ways of life are often seen more clearly than in many other parts of the world. These are examples of ecosystem services, the benefits that we receive from nature. Many ecosystems and ecosystem functions in the Arctic remain largely unstudied and involve little-known organisms, especially microbes. The ABA presents current knowledge also on these processes and organisms and thus provides a base for further work.

But biodiversity is more than a means for humankind to survive. The unique nature of the Arctic is not just an asset for us to use. It is also a source of wonder, enjoyment and inspiration to people living in the Arctic and across the globe. It has intrinsic values that cannot be measured. We sincerely hope that the ABA will not only create the baseline reference for scientific understanding about Arctic biodiversity, but that it also may inspire people to take effective actions on the conservation of Arctic flora and fauna. We hope it gives people reasons to love Arctic nature as much as we do.


Evgeny Syroechkovskiy, Chair of CAFF
Mark Marissink, Chair of the ABA Steering Committee

Yakutsk, Russia, 17 February 2013


Foreword by the Chief Scientist


Photo: Andre Anita/Shutterstock.comUntil recently, most Arctic biodiversity was relatively unaffected by negative impacts from human activities. Only over-exploitation of certain animal populations posed serious threats, such as the extermination of Steller’s sea cow, the great auk, the Eskimo curlew and a number of whale populations in recent centuries, in addition to the contribution that humans may have made to the extermination of terrestrial mega-fauna in prehistoric times.

Human impacts, however, have increased in modern times with increasing human populations in much of the Arctic, modern means of rapid transport, modern hunting and fishing technology, increasing exploration and exploitation of mineral resources, impacts from contaminants and, most importantly, with climate change, which is more pronounced in the Arctic than elsewhere on the globe.

There is no inherited capacity in human nature to safeguard the Earth’s biological assets –moral and intellectual strength are needed to achieve conservation and wise use of living resources through cultural and personal ethics and practices. Sustainability is a prerequisite for such balance, but it does not come without restraint and concerted efforts by all stakeholders, supported by mutual social pressure, legislation and law enforcement.

The Arctic is changing rapidly with shorter winters, rapidly melting sea ice, retreating glaciers and expanding sub-Arctic vegetation from the south. If greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, Arctic biodiversity will be forever changed, and much may disappear completely.

On 18 May 2011, 50 prominent thinkers, among them 15 Nobel Prize winners, issued The Stockholm Memorandum, which among other things states that:

Science indicates that we are transgressing planetary boundaries that have kept civilization safe for the past 10,000 years. Evidence is growing that human pressures are starting to overwhelm the Earth’s buffering capacity. Humans are now the most significant driver of global change, propelling the planet into a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. We can no longer exclude the possibility that our collective actions will trigger tipping points, risking abrupt and irreversible consequences for human communities and ecological systems. We cannot continue on our current path. The time for procrastination is over. We cannot afford the luxury of denial. We must respond rationally, equipped with scientific evidence.

Among the many current and projected stressors on Arctic biodiversity addressed in this report is that of invasive species. However, if we want to do something about the many problems facing nature and biodiversity in the Arctic, we need to focus on the impacts of the most globally ‘invasive species’ of all: Homo sapiens.


Hans Meltofte
Copenhagen, Denmark, 8 February 2013