How we work
© Rosa Merk / WWF-Germany

Arctic Climate Change

What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. The Arctic is warming faster than any other region on Earth, and the world is already feeling the effects.

The Arctic is warming at a rate of almost twice the global average.

Without urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, 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 loss of fish stocks, birds and marine mammals.

Why it matters

Sea ice
© wwf / Sindre Kinnerod
Sea ice is critical to Arctic marine life - and it's projected to nearly disappear in the summer within a generation.

The average temperature of the Arctic has increased 2.3°C since the 1970s.

Polar bear
© Marie-Chantal Marchand / WWF-Canada
Ice dependent species such as narwhals, polar bears, and walruses are at increasing risk with shrinking sea ice cover.

By 2100, polar bears could face starvation and reproductive failure even in far northern Canada.

sun on water in arctic
© WWF / Henry Harrison
Shiny ice and snow reflect a high proportion of the sun's energy into space. As the Arctic loses snow and ice, bare rock and water absorb more and more of the sun’s energy, making it even warmer. This is called the albedo effect.
© naturepl.com / Eric Baccega / WWF

Around 35,000 walruses came ashore on the Alaska coast in September 2014. It’s the largest ‘haul out’ ever recorded. US government agencies estimated that 60 young walruses were crushed in the crowd.

© Global Warming Images / WWF-Canada
More woody plants, more precipitation, and warmer temperatures compromise the survival of grazing animals such as reindeer and muskoxen. 

Warmer winter temperatures have also increased the layers of ice in snow, making food more difficult to dig up in winter.

© Wild Wonders of Europe / Magnus Lundgren / WWF

Fish stocks in the Barents Sea are moving north at up to 160 kilometres per decade as a result of climate change.

The fish are sensitive to changes in water temperature. This poses a risk for commercial and subsistence fisheries that may see fish resources move away from where they can harvest them. The moving fish also change the ecosystems into which they move.

© Dmitry Deshevykh / WWF-Russia
Southern species can pose a risk to existing Arctic species and systems.

On the tundra, rising temperatures have brought a new competitor - the Arctic fox’s much larger cousin, the red fox. Not only does the newcomer colonise their dens, it can also kill the smaller Arctic foxes.

In the ocean, both scientists and Inuit say killer whales appear to be increasing in numbers, and in the length of time they stay in the Arctic. Killer whales prey on narwhals and bowhead whales.

© WWF / Clive Tesar
Melting ice is opening up previously inaccessible routes.

With increased shipping comes spill risk (both fuel and cargo), “black carbon” emissions that help to speed the rate of Arctic melting, ship noise that may also affect whales, and icebreaking that can disrupt ice crossing routes for people and animals.

In 2013, a large bulk carrier transited the Northwest Passage for the first time. In 2018, the first cargo ship transited the Arctic north of Russia.

© Florian Schulz / visionsofthewild.com
There is no proven effective method to clean up oil spills in ice covered waters.

Reduced ice cover is making offshore oil production in the Arctic more commercially viable. In 2014, the first commercial development of offshore oil (Prirazlomnoye) was pumped from Russian Arctic waters.

Our solutions

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The “Last Ice Area” is where summer sea ice is projected to last the longest. This area could be critically important to species that depend on ice. We are working with local people and governments to manage the area that benefits all Arctic life.
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Climate change in the Arctic cannot be changed 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.
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We urgently need to transition towards a 100% renewable future through the development of clean energy sources. Governments need to finance renewable energy in the Arctic and beyond instead of subsidizing oil and gas.
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Planning and management in the Arctic must find ways for social and natural systems to absorb change: this is resilience. WWF is identifying places around the Arctic that are predicted to be the most resilient.

How we work

Communicating a warming Arctic

WWF brings the effects of climate change in the Arctic to a global audience, and makes the connections between Arctic warming and global impacts.

Helping highly endangered seals

As Finland's climate warms, the country is seeing less snow cover. WWF is helping the extremely endangered Saimaa ringed sealsfind suitable places to nest by creating man-made snow banks.

Planning a future for the Last Ice Area

WWF is looking at the future management of the "Last Ice Area", the place where summer sea ice is projected to persist longest.

Promoting renewable energy

WWF is advocating for renewable energy, and piloting renewable solutions with some Arctic communities.

Protecting the Last Ice Area in Greenland

The Last Ice Area will be essential as an enduring home for ice-dependent life. WWF-Denmark has made a proposal to include the Greenland section of the Last Ice Area on the tentative list for UNESCO world heritage.

Recommending action for walruses

The first circumpolar report on walrus conservation recommends research into the effects of industrial activities on the Arctic animals.

Surveying polar bears in Western Hudson Bay

WWF supports polar bear surveys using an innovative mark-recapture technique that does not require tranquilising the bears.

Teaching the next generation

WWF works with Students on Ice to provide high school students a first hand experience of the effects of climate change in the Arctic.

Publications

The Circle 02.19
The Circle 02.19
13 June 2019
The Circle 01.19
The Circle 01.19
28 February 2019
Getting it right in a new ocean - report
Getting it right in a new ocean - report
26 November 2018
Getting it right in a new ocean - summary
Getting it right in a new ocean - summary
25 November 2018
Canada’s Arctic Marine Atlas
Canada’s Arctic Marine Atlas
17 September 2018
The Last Ice Area introduction
The Last Ice Area introduction
15 September 2018
See all 26 publications

Meet the team

WWF-Sweden

Senior Advisor, Arctic and marine

WWF

Chief Advisor, Polar Regions, WWF-UK

WWF-Denmark

Senior Advisor, Greenland and the Arctic

WWF-Russia

Head, Climate and Energy Program

WWF-Canada

Specialist, Renewable Energy, Arctic

WWF Arctic Coordinating Team

Director, WWF Arctic Programme