© Elisabeth Kruger / WWF-US

Scale of countries’ climate commitments before COP would mean the end of Arctic as we know it

21 September 2021

Arctic Climate Change Pan-Arctic

On Friday, 17 September 2021, UN Climate Change published a synthesis of national climate action plans, or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), submitted by each country under the Paris Agreement to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and deal with the impacts of the climate crisis.

In order to stay within 1.5°C, we must sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030. When summarizing all of the NDCs, and not only the new or updated NDCs, emissions are forecasted at a 16% increase. Leaders must urgently amplify their ambition since every fraction of a degree of additional warming matters. What we do today directly affects the vulnerability of current and future generations to climate change.

While there are indications in the report that greenhouse gas emissions are being reduced further, the world will continue to feel the cascading effects of a rapidly warming Arctic: rising sea levels, changes in climate and precipitation patterns, increasing severe weather events, and disastrous impacts on Arctic biodiversity.

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, WWF Global Lead Climate & Energy, said: “Governments are failing dismally to address the climate crisis. Their words do not match their actions. We simply cannot waste any more time. Countries that have not yet submitted their NDCs should do so by 12 October. Countries who submitted NDCs that lack the ambition necessary to keep 1.5°C alive must urgently review and resubmit their NDCs. Countries who have enhanced ambition but can do more, must.”

Peter Winsor, WWF Arctic Programme Director, said: “For people who live in the Arctic, the rapid changes in climate undermines their livelihoods, identity, health and cultural practices. We cannot negotiate with the melting point of ice. The Arctic is experiencing rapid warming at 2-3 times the global average – we must stick to 1.5°C to have a chance at a healthy future Arctic.”

In a related development, the US and the EU, both with stakes in the Arctic, pledged on Friday during the Major Economies Forum to reduce their methane emissions - a potent greenhouse gas - by at least 30% by 2030, a commitment which can hopefully be followed by other important emitters of methane, including other Arctic countries - Russia, Canada and Norway. Five countries among those assembled last Friday joined the pledge: the UK, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico and Argentina while Australia, Japan and South Korea remained silent. Over the weekend, Ghana and Iraq signed up. The countries that have signed up so far include six of the top 15 methane emitters and account for one-fifth of global methane emissions, the White House said in a statement.

Alongside carbon dioxide cuts, “strong, rapid and sustained reductions” in methane emissions are essential to keep 1.5°C within reach, according to the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). US president Joe Biden called on leaders to increase efforts. “This will not only rapidly reduce the rate of global warming, but it will also produce a very valuable side benefit, like improving public health and agricultural output.”

The Arctic is already experiencing irreversible changes. The rate of warming in the Arctic is at least double the global rate, and current NDC commitments would lead to warming by some 5.5°C. This will result in the Arctic becoming a very different place than humans have witnessed before. Substantial cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions now may help stabilize impacts in the latter half of the century. This is why immediate action on reducing short-term climate pollutants, such as methane, is crucial for how abrupt the climate change in the Arctic will be.

The climate emergency in the Arctic cannot be halted by action solely within the Arctic – it is a global problem that requires a global solution. However, Arctic countries, especially those with high carbon footprints, should lead the way. COP26 is just weeks away.

Read the full report by visiting the UNFCCC website.

For more information:
Andrea Norgren | Sr. Manager Communications, Arctic Programme | andrea.norgren@wwf.se