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Disappearing glaciers, Arctic heatwaves and extreme fires

16 September 2020

Arctic Climate Change Pan-Arctic Wildlife Communities Ocean

SROCC’s chilling predictions are all around us one year later

Ottawa, Canada – One year ago the UN released its most comprehensive science report on climate change in the oceans and polar regions. Containing details from now until the end of the century about what will happen to the world as the planet’s oceans heat up and its coldest places melt away, many of the report’s predictions have become reality.

Next week is the one year anniversary of the release of the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC), from the International Panel on Climate Change. The report makes it clear that many of the extreme weather and climate events we are witnessing right now will continue to get worse unless urgent action is taken to reduce our global greenhouse gas emissions.

For example:

  • SROCC fact: The number of extreme fires in the Arctic is unprecedented in the last 10,000 years. From the Russian Arctic to the Pacific coast of the United States the world is witnessing unprecedented wildfires this year, resulting in a new record for emissions, as well as the massive loss of infrastructure, habitat and life.
  • SROCC fact: Over the last 3 winters, air temperatures in the central Arctic were 6°C above average. This year the Arctic Circle reached 38°C and a record-breaking heatwave in the Siberian Arctic was made at least 600 times more likely because of human-caused climate change.
  • SROCC fact: The melting of polar glaciers and ice sheets is now the largest contributor to global sea-level rise. In 2019, Greenland’s ice sheet lost a record amount of ice. This summer, Canada’s last fully intact Arctic ice shelf – The Milne Ice Shelf at the fringe of Ellesmere Island – collapsed. SROCC predicts that as many as 1 billion people will be displaced by global sea-level rise by 2050.

Now more than ever we realize that what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. The Arctic is warming faster than any other region on earth, becoming a wetter, less predictable place. Unless countries urgently step up their ambition to limit warming to 1.5°C and decarbonize by 2050, the world will continue to feel the effects of a warming Arctic: rising sea levels, changes in climate and precipitation patterns, increasing severe weather events, and threats to globally important fish stocks, marine mammals and bird populations.

Dr. Peter Winsor, WWF Arctic Programme Director said:

“The SROCC report is a stark reminder of ongoing rapid changes in the polar regions, but also offers us hope. We can still save parts of the cryosphere – the world’s snow- and ice-covered places – but we must act now. Arctic nations need to show strong leadership and step forward with their plans for a green recovery from this pandemic to ensure we can achieve the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5°C of warming. The world is critically dependent on healthy polar regions. The Arctic, with its four million people and ecosystems, needs our help to adapt and build resilience to meet today’s reality and future changes to come.”

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, WWF Global Lead for Climate and Energy said:

"Nothing in human history comes close to the kinds and rates of change we expect to face if we don’t take immediate steps to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Glaciers, snow cover and permafrost across the world’s polar and mountain regions have all declined in recent decades due to climate change, contributing to sea-level rise, and impacting people and nature around the globe. That’s why we are calling for countries to submit ambitious national climate plans and emission reduction targets this year as required by the Paris Agreement."

Dr. Martin Sommerkorn, WWF Arctic Programme head of conservation and co-lead of the polar region chapter of the SROCC report said:

“The SROCC report makes it clear how much the whole planet relies upon healthy polar regions. The climate crisis in the north is huge, right now -- the reality of extinction of polar species, loss of iconic landscapes and seascapes, and unsustainable conditions for Arctic people is no longer a distant future. Networks of protected areas are a proven solution to reduce human pressures and a smart way to conserve species, habitats and ecosystems. We need to take urgent action to give nature the elbow room it needs to adjust so that people can continue to benefit from its many contributions to our well-being."

For further information and to request an interview:

Leanne Clare | Sr. Manager Communications, Arctic Programme | lclare@wwfcanada.org

Mandy Jean Woods | Communications Manager Climate & Energy Practice | mwoods@wwfint.org

Notes to editors:

The SROCC report was released on September 25, 2019 by the IPCC. For more information and context please see Arctic melt matters.

Assets are also available upon request and should be credited to WWF.