Climate change will soon make the Arctic regions of the world nearly unrecognisable, dramatically disrupting traditional Inuit and other northern native peoples’ way of life, according to a new report that has yet to be publicly released.
BROOKLIN, Canada – Climate change will soon make the Arctic regions of the world nearly unrecognisable, dramatically disrupting traditional Inuit and other northern native peoples’ way of life, according to a new report that has yet to be publicly released.
The dire predictions are just some of the findings by the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), an unprecedented four-year scientific investigation into the current and future impact of climate change in the region.
“This assessment projects the end of the Inuit as a hunting culture,” said Sheila Watt-Cloutier, chairwoman of the group that represents about 155,000 Inuit in the Arctic regions of Canada, Russia, Greenland, and the United States.
The report predicts the depletion of summer sea ice, which will push marine mammals like polar bears, walrus and some seal species into extinction by the middle of this century, Watt-Cloutier told IPS.
The assessment was commissioned by the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental body involving the eight Arctic nations — Canada, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Russia, and the United States.
The Inuit and other Arctic peoples also participate in the Council and contributed to the ACIA report, along with over 600 hundred scientists from around the world. Although complete, it will not be made public or presented to governments until after the U.S. presidential elections at a conference in Reykjavik, Iceland, Nov. 9-12.
The impacts of climate change are already widely felt in the Arctic. Thawing permafrost — the normally perpetually frozen layer of earth — has collapsed roads and buildings. Unexpectedly thinner sea ice and small streams that have become raging rivers has led to several drownings in recent years, according to Watt-Cloutier.
“Our traditional wisdom on how to survive and thrive on the land is becoming useless because everything is changing and changing fast.”
Alaska experienced its warmest and driest summer ever this year, Patricia Anderson of the ACIA Secretariat University of Alaska said in an interview. Temperatures soared 10 degrees C. above normal and millions of hectares of forest burned in the worst wildfires ever recorded, following several recent years with major fires.
And now the state is facing infestations from the spruce budworm, a tree-eating insect that had only plagued southern forests previously.
“It used to be too cold for it up here,” Anderson noted.
Unable to provide details on the report itself, Anderson confirmed that the report documents that these are not just unusual events but are in fact trends.
“Sea ice will continue to get thinner, there will be much more melting of permafrost and more coastal erosion due to stronger storm surges.”
Inuit people will be unable to continue living off the land in the future and the changes are coming so fast they won’t be able to adapt, she said. “These are the results of climate change.”
The Arctic is warming twice as fast as anywhere else because of global air circulation patterns and natural feedback loops such as less ice reflecting sunlight, leading to increased warming at ground level and more ice melt.
Computer projections by the ACIA show that trend will continue with the Arctic warming by an average of 6 degrees C by the end of the century — even if the Kyoto Protocol commitments to reducing greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide go into effect on a global scale.
And yet things could be even worse. Scientists deliberately selected moderate projections to avoid controversy, Anderson said.
“The rest of the world needs to pay attention to what’s happening in the Arctic because it’s acting as an early warning barometer for what will happen in the rest of the world,” said Watt-Cloutier.
If that’s not reason enough, another key finding in the ACIA report, Anderson said, is the concern that the melting of Arctic ice and snow will dump enough fresh water into the Arctic ocean to slow or shut down the vital North Atlantic Ocean conveyor current.
This conveyor current brings warm tropical waters north and moderates temperatures in eastern North America and Europe. Large volumes of fresh water spilling out of the Arctic ocean could slow its northward movement, leading to an abrupt climate shift where the region would experience much cooler temperatures in just a few years time.
Some scientists have detected signs that this may be already starting to happen.
Despite the alarming evidence, there is little good news when it comes to taking action on climate change. Carbon dioxide emissions are climbing globally, including by the biggest contributor, the United States.
“The Bush administration doesn’t believe there’s a problem and are behind the delay in the release of the report,” said Gordon McBean, an ACIA participant from the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction at the University of Western Ontario. “They don’t even think they ought to reduce their emissions, period.”
But to truly reduce the impact on the Arctic, global emissions have to be reduced by a whopping 50 percent before the year 2050, McBean told IPS.
The Kyoto Protocol, which has not been ratified in the seven years since it was created because the United States and Russia, among others, will not support it, would reduce emissions a mere 5 percent by 2012.
“Kyoto was just a first step, we need a strategy to get to a 50 percent reduction,” McBean said.
Even Canada, which strongly supports Kyoto and emissions reductions, has done little to reduce its own pollution, he said.
Government inaction on climate change by Canada and the United States is due in large part to the failure of the general public to apply pressure on the issue, says Watt-Cloutier.
“People don’t seem to understand that what they do on a daily basis has a direct impact on the people and wildlife of the north,” she said, adding that she hopes people will begin to see that their actions — their choice of vehicle, for example — can produce negative consequences for others and future generations.
“People do want to do the right thing, but they just don’t realise that the Arctic is melting and they are responsible,” she said.
Author: Stephen Leahy
News Service: Inter Press Service