Guest Article #13

The Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF): Working with the CBD to support Arctic biodiversity

Spanning over one-sixth of the planet, the Arctic has some of the most captivating and inspiring species, landscapes and cultures on Earth. Life here has adapted to some of the most challenging and harsh environments in which to survive.

This “challenge to survive” is increasing in scope and urgency as the Arctic faces a suite of new and rapidly developing stressors. Climate change is emerging as the most far-reaching stressor on Arctic biodiversity, although contaminants, habitat change, industrial development, and unsustainable harvest levels continue to have impacts as well.

Warranting the attention of the international community, Arctic biodiversity was discussed at last week's 15th meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity's (CBD) Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA), where the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), the biodiversity working group of the Arctic Council, was invited, through COP Decision X/13, to provide information and assessments to the SBSTTA.

Recognizing the report provided by CAFF (UNEP/CBD/SBSSTA/15/14), and the statement given by the CAFF representative at SBSTTA (available from the Report of Working Group II), SBSTTA's Working Group Two decided on a series of recommendations for the Conference of the Parties, which recognize the importance of Arctic biodiversity in a global context and highlight the need for continued collaboration between the CBD and CAFF for the conservation and sustainable use of the Arctic's living resources. Documents pertaining to these recommendations can be found on the In-session Document section of the SBSTTA website.

CAFF´s mandate is to address the conservation of Arctic biodiversity and help to promote practices that ensure the sustainability of the Arctic's living resources. CAFF is a working group of the Arctic Council, a high-level, intergovernmental, consensus-based and regional forum consisting of eight Arctic states (Canada, Denmark – including Greenland and the Faroe Islands – Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States of America) and six Permanent Participants that represent the Indigenous Peoples of the circumpolar north (Aleut International Association, Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich'in Council International, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North and the Saami Council). The Arctic Council is unique in that Arctic countries and Permanent Participants have a seat at the same decision-making table. Several observer States and organizations also add valuable contributions to the Council's work, and that of its six Working Groups.

CAFF's current and planned work will contribute to the objectives of the CBD, namely by tracking the status and trends in biodiversity across the Arctic. Through CAFF, leading Arctic scientists are engaged in a full and comprehensive Arctic Biodiversity Assessment (ABA). This project is informed by CAFF's Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Programme (CBMP), an international network of scientists, government agencies, Indigenous organizations and conservation groups working to harmonize and integrate efforts to monitor the Arctic's living resources. The ABA is the Arctic Council's response to global conservation needs and is scheduled for completion in 2013. It will:

  • provide the baseline of the current state of the Arctic´s ecosystems and biodiversity, for use in global and regional assessments;
  • provide up-to-date scientific and traditional ecological knowledge;
  • identify gaps in the data record;
  • identify key mechanisms driving change; and
  • produce policy recommendations regarding Arctic biodiversity.

A primary challenge is to shorten the gap between data collection and policy response. To assist, CAFF is creating a framework for the collection, processing and analysis of data on a continuous basis. The ABA and the CBMP, in combination, provide the framework and tools necessary to create a baseline of current knowledge and provide dynamic assessments over time. This evolving, sustainable and responsive system can produce more regular, timely and flexible analyses than previous, static approaches.

Our ability to respond effectively to change is dependent upon how well we cooperate effectively and share knowledge across borders, helping to foster greater understanding and allowing for the formulation of appropriate policy responses. Enhanced cooperation among the Arctic countries and relevant agencies, communities and organizations, as well as global bodies such as the CBD, is essential in order to secure the natural productive capacity of the Arctic's ecosystems and to secure biological diversity at all levels in the Arctic. CAFF is a good example of such efforts in action and demonstrates the effectiveness of such an approach. To learn more about CAFF, please visit our website at