The hottest temperature ever measured above the Arctic circle was recorded in Verkhoyansk, Siberia this past June. In fact, the + 38.6°C reading was just one of many highs that made June 2020 in Siberia five degrees warmer than any June from 1981 to 2010. A recent Oxford University-led study shows man-made climate change due to carbon emissions made this Siberian heatwave 600 times more likely.
But it isn’t just the Arctic that is warming, and it isn’t just the Arctic that will suffer the consequences of rising global temperatures. There will be potentially catastrophic global impacts on nature and people everywhere if temperatures continue to rise.
In 2019, the IPCC released the Special Report on Oceans and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate. This report describes the disastrous impact of climate change on Arctic communities and wildlife.
In the Paris Agreement, countries agreed to limit warming to well below 2°C with a goal of 1.5°C. Records show that global temperatures have already increased by approximately 1°C.
If we want to keep within the acceptable limits of global warming, the world needs to be at net zero by 2050, this means there is a balance between carbon emissions and carbon removal.
We need to limit carbon to limit warming
The global carbon budget is the amount of carbon that we can afford to release into the atmosphere. To have more than a 50 per cent chance of keeping global warming under 1.5°C, our remaining budget ranges between 235 and 395 Gt or gigatons of CO2. This may seem like a lot but in 2019 global emissions amounted to nearly 37 Gt of CO2. At this rate we will reach the 1.5°C threshold within the decade. A global warming of 2°C corresponds to 985 Gt CO2 emissions.
Where is the carbon coming from?
Arctic countries are significant contributors to global climate change. The eight Arctic countries represent one-fifth of global emissions.
On top of producing significant emissions, Arctic countries are also substantial exporters of oil and gas. For oil exportation:
- Russia is No. 2
- United States No.4
- Canada No.5
- Norway No.14
And Arctic countries rank even higher for the export of natural gas:
- Russia is No.1
- Norway No.3
- Canada No.4
- United States No.6
With shrinking sea ice, Arctic countries continue to explore and drill for untapped reserves in the Arctic threatening fragile ecosystems and wildlife. In Norway, companies are permitted to conduct seismic surveys and mapping of the seabed for future oil and gas development along the Marginal Ice Zone, a highly threatened and biologically important area in the Arctic and the world.
Carbon emissions are accelerating the climate crisis and many of the impacts will be felt more strongly in the polar regions. If Arctic countries want to avoid irreversible changes and significant negative impacts on Arctic nature and people, they need to lead a global transition to low carbon.
Not long ago, bowhead whales in the Barents Sea, between the Norwegian and Russian Arctic, were thought to be extinct because of whaling activities. But scientists discovered that a small number of bowheads still live in a biologically rich area known as the marginal ice zone. Despite prices for crude oil dipping into historic lows, this group of critically endangered whales faces a new threat as the Norwegian parliament decides in the coming weeks whether to expand oil drilling into the globally significant marginal ice zone.
Updated, June 18, 2020, OSLO, NORWAY - A majority of Norway’s parliament is expected to vote against scientific advice next week in a decision that will reject greater protection of one of the world’s most important biological hotspots. Instead, Norway’s politicians have chosen to support the oil and gas lobby and allow for continued exploration in the Barents Sea.