Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development

Arctic Sea Ice Levels Hit Record Low

Reducing black carbon and other short-lived climate pollutants key to slowing Arctic warming

Washington, DC 28 August 2012 – Arctic sea ice has hit record lows with weeks still to go in the melt season, an indication of accelerating global warming. Arctic sea ice has reached the lowest level ever observed in the three decades since polar cap observations began, according to scientists from NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center. “The Arctic is already warming at twice the global average, and the loss of sea ice and its ability to reflect heat back to space is now starting to melt the permafrost, which is releasing still more climate-warming gases,”, said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development. “This feedback loop is pushing us closer to one of the first tipping points that could cause irreversible climate damage.” Zaelke added, “Reducing black carbon soot and other short-lived climate pollutants can cut the rate of Arctic warming by two-thirds. We need a crash course that starts today with black carbon, which is responsible for half of the Arctic warming, or about 1.0C.” Other short-lived climate pollutants include methane, which is being released from the thawing permafrost, and hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs. Scientists last year predicted that the Arctic could be free of summer sea ice in the next thirty to forty years and sea-levels could rise up to 5 feet by the end of the century with melting snow and ice in the Arctic making a significant contribution. “In addition to a crash course to cut black carbon in the Arctic,” Zaelke said that “we also need to phase down HFCs through the Montreal Protocol, which is one of the biggest and fastest and cheapest ways to mitigate climate change.” Other efforts to reduce short-lived climate pollutants are underway in new Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, launched by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier this year. There are now 27 members of the Coalition. IGSD sits on the Steering Committee of the Coalition as the representative of nongovernmental organizations. According to a recent UNEP/WMO report, full implementation of a package of sixteen emission reduction measures targeting black carbon and ozone precursors, including methane, can cut the rate of warming in the Arctic by two-thirds and the rate of global warming by half for the next 30 to 60 years. IGSD Press Release “Dramatic Sea Level Rise Expected From Faster Melting of Arctic Snow and Ice” (6 May 2011) is here.