Arctic Climate Change: Local Impacts, Global Consequences, and Policy Implications
The Arctic is warming more rapidly than most other parts of the world, and many impacts of climate change are now observed throughout the region. Summer sea ice extent has declined by 45% over the last three decades, allowing increased shipping activity. Arctic glaciers have lost their protective cap of perennial ice and are melting at accelerated rates, permafrost is thawing rapidly, northern coastlines are exposed to increased wave action and erosion, and there are pronounced effects on terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Indigenous communities are facing difficult challenges to maintain their traditional lifestyles, and built infrastructure is vulnerable to damage from flooding and permafrost collapse. Climate-induced changes in the North will increasingly affect biodiversity, sea level, weather patterns and Earth’s energy and carbon balance, with policy implications at all scales, from local decision-making to global actions. Adaptation policies require attention to strengthening resilience, and to preparing for the extreme changes that lie ahead. Conservation policies are now more important than ever, including protected wilderness areas and “last ice” refuges. Climate projections show that reduced greenhouse gas emissions and thereby less warming can make a huge difference in reducing ice loss, permafrost carbon release, and the risks to northern infrastructure, and that collective mitigation policies and action are urgently required to avoid devastating impacts on northern environments and all of humanity. Research and knowledge exchange (including Indigenous Knowledge) are vitally important to understand and plan for the future state of the Arctic, and to provide the foundation for informed decisions.
I thank Drs. Catherine Girard, Kanae Komaki, Connie Lovejoy and Maribeth Murray for valuable comments and suggestions on draft versions of the manuscript, and the following agencies for supporting our research on Arctic climate change and northern ecosystems: the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Fonds de Recherche du Québec—Nature et technologies, the Canada Research Chair program, the Network of Centres of Excellence ArcticNet, the Polar Continental Shelf Program, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and the Canada First Excellence Research Fund program Sentinel North.
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