GRID Polar Division News

Rapid rise in tourism new challenge to polar environment

New UNEP report released to mark World Environment Day: Tourism in the Polar Regions - The Sustainability Challenge

Tromsø/Nairobi, 3 June 2007 - Polar tourism has grown dramatically in the last ten years raising concerns about the possible negative impact on the environment and local communities, a new report says.

In the Arctic, tourist numbers have grown from about 1 million in the early 1990s to more that 1.5 million today. In Antarctica, the number of ship-borne tourists increased by 430% in last 14 years and land-based tourists by 757% in last 10 years.

At the same time, appropriate management practices and infrastructure in the Arctic and Antarctica have not in general matched the challenge of rising flows of visitors.

The adoption and application of relevant sustainable tourism policies and programmes is urgently needed, says the report.

These are some of the key messages in Tourism in the Polar Regions - The Sustainability Challenge, a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), launched in advance of World Environment Day.

Regions, once the preserve of local and indigenous communities and scientists, are now very much on the fashionable tourist map and cruise line schedules, says Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director.

The fragility of some of these unique and biologically rich ecosystems may be impacted by the number of visitors and the activities undertaken. Yet, tourism is an activity that if sustainably managed and with profits and revenues fairly shared can contribute to the conservation of the polar environment as well as the well-being and livelihoods of local communities in the Arctic, he said.

According to the new report, produced jointly with the International Ecotourism Society, there are serious concerns that the rapidly growing tourist industry is promoting environmental degradation in the Polar Regions (especially in the Arctic) by putting extra pressures on land, wildlife, water and other basic necessities.

With visitors to the Arctic now greatly exceeding their host populations in many popular destinations, there are also fears that unique cultural practices will be lost, and negative impacts on local peoples will grow.

According to Stefanos Fotiou, the report's coordinator and head of the UNEP tourism unit: There is a potential, like what happens in the Galapagos islands, to use tourism revenues for nature conservation projects in the Polar Regions.

When it comes to advancing polar tourism policies and programmes, Foriou says that the important thing, however, is to adopt the right approaches to the very different situations prevailing in the Arctic and Antarctica.

What is now needed to advance sustainable polar tourism policies and programs is to assemble existing information and create more practical tools; provide open access to that information and implement pilot projects that will contribute to the mainstreaming of a more sustainable tourism in the Arctic, Fotiou says. In the Antarctic efforts should be continued to ensure that commercial activities will not impact on the successes of the Antarctic Treaty system, in particular in securing Antarctica as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science".

News from the report came as Helen Bjørnøy, the Norwegian environment minister, announced a ban on ships using heavy fuel oils visiting the protected areas on the east coast of Svalbard in the Arctic circle.

Tourism has become a big industry. Tourism brings jobs and opportunities to people all over the world?including Norway, including the Polar regions. But tourism?especially the large-scale global tourism?is also producing a growing pressures on resources, nature areas and ecosystems, she added.

Ms Bjørnøy further announced that Norway intends to nominate Svalbard for inclusion on the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation's (UNESCO) World Heritage List.

For Norway, it is a declared goal to make Svalbard one of the best managed wilderness areas in the world. All the environmental regulations for Svalbard have been gathered into one Act. All new activities?including within tourism?are therefore assessed on the basis of their overall pressure on the natural environment and cultural heritage. I have therefore taken an initiative to put this area on our 'tentative list' to UNESCO, she said.

Note to Editors

Copies of Tourism in the Polar Regions - The Sustainability Challenge can be purchased from www.earthprint.com

For more information on UNEP tourism work http://www.unep.fr/pc/tourism/home.htm

The new UNEP/IES report outlines the key features of the Polar Region environment and describes tourism's multiple roles and impacts in both the Arctic and Antarctica. It describes the significance of polar tourism, explains the trends and impacts, proposes an agenda for sustainable tourism development, and outlines principles, guidelines and selected good practices to conserve these unique wilderness areas through the regulation and management of tourism.

World Environment Day, commemorated each year on 5 June, is one of the principal vehicles through which the United Nations stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment and enhances political attention and action. The World Environment Day slogan selected for 2007 is Melting Ice - a Hot Topic? In support of International Polar Year, the WED theme selected for 2007 focuses on the effects that climate change is having on polar ecosystems and communities, and the ensuing consequences around the world. For more information see www.unep.org/wed/2007 and www.wed.npolar.no.

For More Information Please Contact Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, on Tel: +254 20 7623084, Mobile: +254 733 632755, Alternative Mobile: +254 727 531 253 E-mail: nick.nuttall{at-sign}unep.org. Or, Robert Bisset, UNEP Spokesperson for Europe on Tel: +33 1 4437 7613, Mobile: +33 6 2272 5842 email: Robert.bisset{at-sign}unep.fr.

Monday 04 Jun 2007