Canada urged to up its game on Arctic shipping

The Canadian government needs to create a governance structure for Arctic shipping corridor development and management as vessel traffic in the region increases amid significant reductions in sea ice cover, a report claims.

The new report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, titled The Integrated Arctic Corridors Framework, proposes a comprehensive system of tiered shipping routes that are expected to benefit Canada, the shipping industry, and northern communities.

However, the organization insists that the government’s existing management of Arctic shipping does not sufficiently account for the environmental and social complexity of the region.

“For decades, government departments, academics, and civil society groups have made recommendations for reform. However, Canada still lacks a clear, cohesive vision for Arctic shipping policy,” Pew said.

The issue is gaining on importance ever more seeing that the Arctic vessel traffic more than doubled as sea ice retreated over the past 40 years. These vessels pass through a complex marine environment that comprises critical habitat areas, including many passages where the activities of birds, marine mammals, fish, humans, and ships converge.

In 2012, the Canadian Coast Guard began to address some of the deficiencies in the nation’s Arctic shipping policy by launching the Northern Marine Transportation Corridors Initiative (NMTCI). That initiative seeks to establish a system of voluntary marine corridors toward which the Coast Guard and other agencies could direct their financial, material, and human resource capacity to support vessel safety in the Arctic.

According to Pew, the NMTCI could be the foundation for a national Arctic shipping policy, but for this to happen, it must be expanded to adequately account for the environmental and social complexity of Canada’s Arctic Ocean.

The report further recommends consultation and meaningful engagement with Inuit leadership and communities, integration of information including shipping and ice data, wildlife migration routes, and human use, including Inuit traditional knowledge, along with designation of voluntary shipping corridors and their classification according to risk to ensure targeted investment in infrastructure and services and management of high-risk areas.

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