A dire climate warning for the Arctic

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By Catherine Hardy  with Reuters
A dire climate warning for the Arctic
  • Fossil fuel warning
  • 19 “regime shifts” identified
  • Some communities adapting better than others

The warning

Unless the world stops burning fossil fuels that are fuelling global warming, irreversible changes in the Arctic could have disastrous effects for the people that live there and for the rest of the planet.

This is the conclusion of researchers working for the Arctic Council, who say the frozen region’s ecosystems are fundamentally threatened by climate change and other human activities like oil and gas extraction.

The study highlights the importance of having the right laws and systems in place so Arctic communities can make collective decisions about how best to face up to climate change.

The details

19 “regime shifts” have been identified.

These are major, hard-to-predict tipping points that have or could occur in the Arctic’s land and water.

They include a switch to sea-ice free summers and the collapse of various fish stocks.

These shifts affect the instability of the climate and landscape, the ability of plant and animal species to survive and indigenous people’s subsistence and ways of life, the report says.

The potential impacts of Arctic regime shifts on the rest of the world are “substantial” but poorly understood.

Indigenous solutions

The report explores how communities in Arctic countries, from Finland to Russia and Canada, are dealing with the changes underway.

Some are adapting far better than others, it has found.

The Inuit of Cape Dorset in Canada’s Nunavut territory have transformed themselves from nomadic hunters into internationally-recognised artists based on their traditional crafts.

And in Iceland, reduced cod quotas and increases in whale populations after a hunting moratorium pushed Húsavík’s fishing community to turn itself into one of the country’s whale-watching hotspots.

However, other places have not proved so resilient.

In Sweden, Sámi reindeer herders have struggled to cope as it becomes harder to feed animals and move around due to shrinking ice.

Other communities in Russia, Greenland and Alaska have run into problems with efforrts to relocate.

What is the Arctic Council?

An intergovernmental forum working to protect the region’s environment.

What they are saying

“Arctic ecosystems are changing in dramatic ways: the ice is melting, sea levels are rising, coastal areas are eroding, permafrost is thawing and the areas where plants and animals live are shifting,” – the Arctic Council report

“If multiple regime shifts reinforce each other, the results could be potentially catastrophic,” – Johann Rockström, director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre.