© US Coast Guard

Arctic nations are responsible for 22% of the world’s carbon footprint.

13 March 2019

This article originally appeared in The Circle: What happens after 1.5°C?. The Circle shares perspectives from across the Arctic, and the views expressed here are not necessarily those of WWF. See all Circle issues here.

To limit the impacts of a climate-changed Arctic to levels that will be safe for humanity, we need a worldwide movement to curtail the global temperature rise to 1.5˚C beyond preindustrial levels. This movement needs leadership. So far, the Arctic countries have shown little.

FOR MANY Arctic communities, and indeed for entire societies in the northern hemisphere, fish and shellfish from the Arctic Ocean are an essential part of life, providing food, income and cultural context. If we manage them well, we could theoretically use these renewable resources forever. However, scientific reports increasingly warn that if we are not ambitious about limiting global warming, Arctic fisheries may fail, as they will not be able to keep up with the rate and complexity of the consequences of change. In light of forecasts that the quantities of fish further south will be drastically reduced as the planet warms, this warning to the Arctic countries and the global community could not be more serious.

This is just one example of the global importance of Arctic climate change impacts. Another is the rapidly diminishing Arctic sea ice accelerating warming for the entire Earth. Warming from past and current emissions is also committing the Greenland Ice Sheet to multi-century melt, amplifying the sea level rise that already threatens tens of millions of people in coastal zones worldwide. There are many more examples, and all of them should remind us that what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. The fact that the Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet means every bit of reduced global warming counts twice in the Arctic. What better motivation could there possibly be for leadership on ambitious global action from Arctic countries?

Yet so far, we have seen the contrary. There was virtually no Arctic presence at the recent climate negotiations in Poland, even though in 2016, Arctic nations accounted for 22 per cent of global emissions. A closer look at the contributions of many Arctic countries to the Paris Agreement (as shown by the Paris Equity Check—see “Find out more”) reveals that if the world were to follow their example, we would be looking at a planet that is 4˚C to 5 ˚C warmer overall by 2100—and 8˚C to 10˚C degrees warmer in the Arctic.

Meanwhile, Norway is giving away 24 new offshore oil licenses. Hydrocarbon development in the Russian Yamal region is accelerating in unprecedented ways. Plans for producing oil in Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuge are being revived. This kind of “leadership” constitutes dangerous interference with our planet.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5˚C clearly illustrates the global risks of exceeding 1.5˚C, and spells out how every bit of warming matters. It also clearly demonstrates what we need to do to reach that goal. Further, it states that while reaching this goal is not geophysically impossible, every year matters and every choice matters. In other words, it’s up to us. When the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in Changing Climate is published later this year, it will further specify the regional and global impacts and risks of a changing Arctic. Societies should and will demand answers and leadership from Arctic governments.

This is a critical time for Arctic states to commit to identifying and promoting the most promising solutions. We need Arctic states to become responsible stewards of their people and to develop truly sustainable, nature-based economies. These goals demand leadership for speedy, ambitious and transformative action.

There is little time to prepare. To begin with, let us expose the false narrative of hydrocarbon-based sustainable development in the Arctic.

WWF encourages Indigenous Arctic leaders, the business community, supporting scientific institutions and innovators to encourage and initiate the transformations needed to keep some of the Arctic frozen and humanity safe.

Learn more:

Martin Sommerkorn
Head, Conservation
WWF Arctic Coordinating Team