The Arctic climate is warming rapidly, much larger changes are in store due to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases from human activity and the global impact such as rising sea levels will be “staggering,” presenting one of the most serious threats to humankind, the United Nations environment agency warned today.
“With these facts before us, we need, more than ever before, a concerted and renewed international efforts to combat the climate change problem,” Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said in a statement citing a newly released report by an international team of 300 scientists.
The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), an unprecedented four-year scientific study, confirms earlier worrying research on global warming. Increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases are projected to contribute to additional warming of 3 to 9 degrees over the next 100 years and developing countries will suffer most.
“The Arctic region, the barometer on global climate change, is like an environmental early warning system for the world,” Mr. Toepfer said. “What happens there is of concern for everyone because Arctic warming and its consequences have worldwide implications.”
Among its many detailed findings the ACIA, commissioned by the Arctic Council, a high-level intergovernmental forum comprising Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States, predicts that Arctic vegetation zones and animal species will be affected.
Retreating sea ice is expected to reduce the habitat for polar bears, walrus, ice-inhabiting seals and marine birds, threatening some species with extinction. Such changes will also affect many indigenous communities who depend on such animals, not only for food, but also as the basis for cultural and social identity.
Beyond the region, as Arctic glaciers melt and the permafrost thaws, developing countries with limited means to adapt to environmental change will suffer most.
Mr. Toepfer praised Russia’s recent decision to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change as an important step in the international fight to check global warming but warned: “As the ACIA reveals the battle is far from over.
“I want to congratulate the Arctic Council for their decision to commission the report,” he added. “We now have a clear scientific consensus that the Arctic is warming and the resulting affects on global climate will be serious.”