Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development

Dangerous Warming ‘Locked-In’ in the Arctic

Losing reflective sea ice threatens climate chaos

Nairobi, Kenya, 13 March– Winter temperatures in the Arctic will rise up to 9°C above pre-industrial levels by 2080 even if the world meets the temperature targets outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Even under the IPCC’s medium-emission scenario, projected winter temperatures will rise from 3 to 5°C by 2050, key UN report confirms today. 

Released at this year’s United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), Global Linkages – A graphic look at the changing Arcticconfirms for the first time Arctic temperature increase “is locked into the climate system by greenhouse gasses already emitted and ocean heat storage.” Increased Arctic temperatures relative to the planetary average, occur as a result of ‘Arctic Amplification’, a phenomenon that causes higher temperatures near the poles resulting from a combination of feedback processes.

“In the battle to save the Arctic, defeat can be summed up in two words: ‘too late,’” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development who is attending the UN meeting in Nairobi. 

“If we lose the Arctic, we release an unholy cascade of other self-reinforcing feedbacks that may become unstoppable, leading to climate chaos. No market solutions will save the Arctic, only fast mandatory mitigation organized by G20 countries on an emergency basis to cut short-lived climate pollutants along with carbon dioxide,” he added.

The report calls on Arctic societies to respond to climate change through suitable adaptation actions and also calls on the world for an urgent transition to low-carbon economies both in the Arctic and globally, which “must be complemented by instant measures to reduce short-lived super pollutants,” including HFCs, methane, tropospheric ozone and black carbon. Immediate cuts to super pollutants across the world could cut the rate of warming in the Arctic by up to two-thirds by mid-century. 

Global Linkages outlines the regional and local implications of rapidly rising temperatures in the Arctic including, disruptions to ocean circulation, seal levels and climate and weather patterns. Moreover, the report warns of critical tipping points in the Arctic, like the thawing of permafrost, which could release large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and derail any efforts to achieve long-term climate goals.

“This is just the latest dire warning that we must act with unprecedented speed to prevent runaway self-reinforcing climate impacts in the Arctic and around the world, starting with the reduction of super climate pollutants,” said Romina Picolotti, Senior Policy Analyst of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development who also attended the UNEA. “This is the emergency the youth now recognizes, we must listen to them and act now”.

Global Linkages – A graphic look at the changing Arctic is available here.