New observations show that the increase in Arctic average surface temperature between 1979 and 2019 was three times higher than the global average during this period – higher than previously reported - according to the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP).
Climate change impacts on Arctic communities, ecosystems and species, especially when associated with extreme events, are considerable and accelerating. Sea ice loss, glacier retreat and reduced snow cover remobilizes previously deposited contaminants. While climate change is mainly driven by carbon dioxide emissions, changes in emissions of air pollutants such as short-lived climate forcers also affect the climate as well as human health. Globally, such air pollution is a major cause of premature deaths and reducing air pollution from particles and ozone could prevent hundreds of thousands of premature deaths in Arctic Council Member and Observer countries, it said.
The Arctic Climate Change Update 2021: Key Trends and Impacts. Summary for Policy-makers was presented at the Arctic Council Ministerial in Reykjavik, Iceland on 20 May.
The meeting concluded with a Ministerial declaration and a strategic plan reaffirming the Council’s commitment to a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable Arctic region.
Goal 1 – Arctic Climate: monitor, assess and highlight the impacts of climate change in the Arctic to encourage compliance with the Paris Agreement and support stronger global measures to reduce greenhouse gases and shortlived climate pollutants, while strengthening circumpolar cooperation on: climate science and observations; reduction of emissions; climate change mitigation, adaptation and resilience; and exchange of knowledge and innovative technologies in support of these efforts
Goal 2 – Healthy and Resilient Arctic Ecosystems: promote pollution prevention, monitoring, assessment, conservation and protection of Arctic biodiversity, ecosystems and species habitats, based on best available science, and respecting the importance of sustainable development for all current and future generations of Arctic inhabitants;
Goal 3 – Healthy Arctic Marine Environment: promote conservation and sustainable use of the Arctic marine environment for the benefit of all current and future generations of Arctic inhabitants, encourage safety at sea, prevention of marine pollution and cooperate to improve knowledge of the Arctic marine environment, monitor and assess current and future impacts on Arctic marine ecosystems, work together to enhance cooperation on marine issues and promote respect for the rule of law and existing legal frameworks applicable to Arctic waters;
The ministerial session marked the end of the two-year Icelandic Chairmanship of the Arctic Council and the beginning of the Russian Federation’s Chairmanship for the years 2021-2023.
WMO has observer status with the Arctic Council, which is the pre-eminent intergovernmental forum for cooperation on Arctic affairs. The Council’s Ministerial meeting is held every two years, giving the Foreign Ministers of the eight Arctic States and the political leadership of the six Indigenous Permanent Participants the opportunity to strengthen international cooperation in the region, and review the quality work produced by the Council’s Working Groups.
The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) is the working group responsible for monitoring and assessing the state of Arctic pollution and climate change, and for developing science-based recommendations for actions to support policy-making. It’s research informs WMO’s Global Cryosphere Watch programme and polar activities.
Key findings included:
- Climate change is a here-and-now problem in the Arctic. Key indicators such as temperature, precipitation, snow cover, sea ice thickness and extent, and permafrost thaw show rapid and widespread changes underway in the Arctic. An important update is that the increase in Arctic annual mean surface temperature (land and ocean) between 1971 and 2019 was three times higher (a 3.1°C rise) than the increase in the global average during the same period. This is higher than reported in previous AMAP assessments.
- The Arctic is experiencing an increase in the frequency and/or intensity of rapid sea ice loss events, melt events on the Greenland ice sheet, heavy precipitation, inland flooding, coastal erosion and wildfires. There has been an increase in extreme high temperatures and a decline in extreme cold events. Cold spells lasting more than 15 days have almost completely disappeared from the Arctic since 2000. Extreme climate and weather events affect ecosystems, infrastructure, and people. They can also push conditions over thresholds for potentially irreversible change.
- The Arctic is home to approximately 4 million people. Climate change is driving rapid changes in the Arctic that affect people—especially Indigenous Peoples— living in the Arctic and beyond. Changing environmental and ecological conditions are having negative impacts on health and wellbeing, food security, transportation, livelihoods, industries, infrastructure, and the availability of safe drinking water.
- Climate change is expected to increase access to resources such as oil, gas, and minerals in the Arctic. However, the potential for expansion of these industries is tempered by efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions and achieve goals established under the Paris Agreement. Furthermore, the environmental implications of a major oil spill in the Arctic would be significant.
- Ecosystems across the Arctic are undergoing fundamental changes, which affect global climate change through feedbacks in the climate system. The rapidly changing cryosphere is affecting ecosystems throughout the region, changing the productivity, seasonality, distribution, and interactions of species in terrestrial, coastal, and marine ecosystems. Changes in sea ice type, extent, and seasonality; snow cover on land and sea ice; and the rapid loss of perennial ice and the Greenland ice sheet are causing major changes in ecosystems that affect the cycling of carbon and greenhouse gases. Unique ecosystems, such as those associated with multi-year sea ice or millennia-old ice shelves, are at risk and some are vanishing. Extreme events can exacerbate transitions already underway triggering further impacts on ecosystems.
- No one on Earth is immune to Arctic warming. The effects of Arctic change are felt far beyond the Arctic, including the impacts of global sea-level rise, the opportunities and risks associated with the opening of new shipping routes and improved access to fossil fuel reserves, and the potential for feedbacks that affect atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. Although studies have demonstrated connections between Arctic change and midlatitude weather patterns, the linkages are complex and inconsistent.
WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas delivered a video presentation to the Arctic Council ministerial highlighting WMO’s State of the Climate Report, which had a special section on the Arctic, and the Year of Polar Prediction which seeks to improve observations in the data-sparse Arctic.
Prof. Taalas also participated in the 2nd Arctic Met Summit 2021, hosted by the Icelandic Meteorological Organization, and showcasing the significance of a Pan-Arctic collaboration in Earth System Observations and Modelling. He presented WMO’s Arctic services and took part in sessions on the importance of creating a bridge between science and community.
Ahead of the Arctic Council session, an Arctic Science Ministerial was held on 9 May. In its joint statement stressed the need to “Encourage continuation of the critical work of the Arctic Council working groups and expert groups, World Meteorological Organization (WMO), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), IPCC, IPBES, International Maritime Organization (IMO), International Oceanographic Commission (IOC), and other groups that are producing important scientific assessment and synthesis products that inform response plans.”