Two million back campaign to protect Arctic

Proposals to protect the Arctic by creating a global sanctuary around the North Pole have drawn worldwide support

Climate change and oil drilling pose a significant threat to the Arctic region say campaigners, but more than two million people are ready to stand up for its preservation.

Greenpeace describes the support for its Save The Arctic campaign so far as “incredible” and says it demonstrates the affection people have for this unique and fragile environment.

Those behind the campaign, which was launched in summer 2012, say the Arctic is under siege from the dual threats of climate change and oil drilling. Discovery of the world’s last untapped oil and gas resources in the region north of the Arctic Circle prompted a global resource race, spearheaded by companies such as Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Gazprom.

Their representatives argue that these resources, locked beneath the seas, are crucial to meet future global energy demand and say accessing them will boost the economies of places such as Alaska and Greenland by creating many jobs.

But Greenpeace says the search for hydrocarbons is misguided, insisting alternative energy solutions must now be prioritised, and that an oil spill in such a remote location would be “catastrophic.”

The environmental group wants the UN to protect the uninhabited area around the North Pole and is calling for a ban on offshore oil drilling in the Arctic, as well as a halt to unsustainable fishing practices in the region.

Sara Ayech, Arctic campaigner at Greenpeace, told Positive News: “People have a strong emotional attachment to the Arctic. It is a place of myth, explorers, somewhere you hear about as a child, and I think the fact that it is melting and we are on the verge of losing it is really resounding with people.

“Species which live there, like the narwhal and the polar bear, are nowhere else on the planet. So even people in countries nowhere near the Arctic feel strongly affected.”

In January 2013, Shell’s $5bn Arctic drilling plans were put at risk as two of the US President Barack Obama’s closest advisers called for a permanent halt to oil exploration there. It came after a series of safety and environmental lapses by Shell. Ayech says the decision was testament to campaigners’ actions and urged more people to get involved.

In April 2013, Greenpeace will add all the signatories’ names to an Arctic scroll and lower it through 4km of freezing water, planting it on the bottom of the ocean. The spot will be marked by a flag created by designer Vivienne Westwood and a winner of the organisation’s Flag for the Future competition, whereby young people worldwide are invited to design a flag to symbolise an international commitment to protect the Arctic for all life on Earth.