New scientific consensus: Arctic is warming rapidly<br>Much larger changes are projected, affecting global climate
The Arctic is warming much more rapidly than previously known, at nearly twice the rate as the rest of the globe, and increasing greenhouse gases from human activities are projected to make it warmer still, according to the final report of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), an unprecedented four-year scientific study of the region conducted by an international team of 300 scientists.
At least half the summer sea ice in the Arctic is projected to melt by the end of this century, along with a significant portion of the Greenland ice sheet, as the region is projected to warm an additional 4-7 °C by 2100. These changes will have major global impacts, such as contributing to global sea-level rise and intensifying global warming. Sea ice retreat will decrease habitats for polar bears and ice-living seals to an extent likely to threaten the survival of these species in the European Arctic.
Changes in climate are occurring in the context of many other stresses including chemical pollution, over-fishing, land-use changes, habitat fragmentation, human population increases and cultural and economic changes. These multiple pressures can combine to amplify impacts on human and ecosystem health and well-being, especially under the unique circumstances in the Arctic.
Over inland areas in the Scandinavian Arctic, average wintertime temperatures have increased in the last 50 years by about 2 °C. By 2090, model simulations project additional annual average warming of around 3 °C for Scandinavia. These temperature changes affect forest, tundra and biodiversity. Observations over recent decades have shown a rate of advance of the treeline of half a metre per year. Climate change impacts on forestry are expected to become more severe, with forest pest outbreaks causing the most extensive damage. As species move northward, alpine species in northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia are most threatened because there is nowhere for them to go. The strip of tundra habitat between the forest and the ocean is particularly narrow and vulnerable to loss.
Impacts of climate change and their implications for the availability of resources could lead to major changes in economic conditions and subsequent shifts in demographics, societal structure, and cultural traditions in the region.
Jacqueline McGlade, the Executive Director of the European Environment Agency, said that it is not only the extent of change but also the speed of change that is a major issue of concern. This combined with the fact that many of the people living in the Arctic are not the cause of climate change but are on the receiving end of the impacts, makes this an urgent and pressing issue to address seriously. Europe has to act very responsibly to undertake economic analysis of the implications of climate change and adaptations for this area and most importantly has to consider the inter-related aspects of the policy aspirations for agriculture, transport and energy.
The findings of the first Arctic Climate Impact Assessment provide a scientific basis upon which decision makers can consider, craft and implement appropriate actions to respond to this important and far reaching challenge. However, finding effective ways of bringing the information gathered in the ACIA process to the communities of the Arctic presents an additional challenge. Professor McGlade confirms that the EEA will continue to cooperate with the Arctic Council, indigenous peoples organisations and others to support the effort to make the results widely known and useful particularly to decision makers in Europe.
The assessment was commissioned by the Arctic Council (a ministerial intergovernmental forum comprised of the eight Arctic countries and six indigenous peoples organisations) and the International Arctic Science Committee (an international scientific organisation appointed by 18 national academies of science).
For the report and official press release see the website of AMAP - the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme: http://www.amap.no. For further information on the Arctic and Europe and on climate change impacts see the following recent publications of the EEA: Arctic environment: European perspectives, Enviromental issue report no. 38 http://reports.eea.eu.int/environmental_issue_report_2004_38/en, and Impacts of Europe's changing climate, EEA Report: http://reports.eea.eu.int/climate_report_2_2004/en.