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You are here: Home / News / Arctic leaders urge further action on climate change

Arctic leaders urge further action on climate change

Our economies, our societies, and in some cases even our cultures are threatened by the effects of climate change. This is one of the main messages from the group of indigenous leaders, who are touring Europe to raise awareness on the impacts that warmer temperatures have on the people from the Arctic regions. Rising temperatures affect plants, animals and therefore food and hunting conditions. Also the melting of the permafrost is a threat to houses and infrastructure built upon it, said Chief Gary Harrison from Alaska, who represents the Arctic Athabaskan Council at a meeting in Denmark this week.

Our economies, our societies, and in some cases even our cultures are threatened by the effects of climate change. This is one of the main messages from the group of indigenous leaders, who are touring Europe to raise awareness on the impacts that warmer temperatures have on the people from the Arctic regions. Rising temperatures affect plants, animals and therefore food and hunting conditions. Also the melting of the permafrost is a threat to houses and infrastructure built upon it, said Chief Gary Harrison from Alaska, who represents the Arctic Athabaskan Council at a meeting in Denmark this week.

He thanked Denmark and the other EU countries for taking a strong lead on climate change. "We know there is some tough sledding ahead to make the rest of the cuts in greenhouse gases that will be needed. We came to let people know that climate change is already having an effect in the Arctic, and it will soon be affecting Europe too. It's really important that Europeans commit to more reductions once the Kyoto commitments are complemented."

A recent report from the Copenhagen-based European Environment Agency confirms that changes in climate and impacts on nature and ecosystems are already underway in various parts of Europe, including the Arctic. Prof. Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency:

'These findings provide even more evidence that climate change is really happening. Our report supports policy makers in their efforts to not only reduce emissions of greenhouse gases but also prepare ways to adapt to the changes that will inevitably come. Europe has a particular responsibility because of its leadership in the Kyoto process but also because its geography - from the Arctic to the arid regions of the Mediterranean - means that all Europeans will be affected.'

For more information on the impacts of climate change on the Arctic and on its indigenous people see the "Arctic Climate Impact Assessment" report, published end of 2004 : http://www.acia.uaf.edu/

For more information on The Arctic Indigenous People: http://www.arcticpeoples.org

Relevant EEA Reports:

http://reports.eea.eu.int/climate_report_2_2004/en
http://reports.eea.eu.int/environmental_issue_report_2004_38/en

Background:

The Arctic

  • The Arctic is an enormous area of more than 30 million km², covering over one sixth of the earths´ landmass.
  • It is the home of about four million people, including more than thirty different indigenous peoples.
  • Arctic peoples have much in common, but also maintain many different lifestyles, languages, and cultures.
  • The Arctic is a region of vast natural resources and a clean environment, compared with most areas of the world. However, that environment is under threat from development within the Arctic, but more particularly from the effects of development in the rest of the world.

The Arctic Council and the Permanent Participants

  • The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum including Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faeroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States.
  • It was officially created by the Foreign Ministers of the eight Arctic states in 1996. The Arctic Council is primarily a regional partnership for sustainable development. The work covers three areas; the environmental, social and economic.
  • The Council is a unique forum for co-operation between national governments and indigenous peoples. Six international organizations representing Arctic indigenous peoples have the status of Permanent Participants of the Arctic Council.
  • The title of Permanent Participant gives indigenous peoples' representatives the status necessary to take a full part in the debates and work of the Arctic Council. The indigenous populations in the Arctic are represented by six bodies:
    • Aleut International Association
    • Arctic Athabaskan Council
    • Gwich'in Council International
    • Inuit Circumpolar Conference
    • Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North
    • Saami Council
  • The Permanent Participants are assisted in their Arctic Council work by the Indigenous Peoples' Secretariat.
  • From the beginning, Arctic governments and indigenous communities joined together to make environmental monitoring and assessment a key element of the Arctic Council's agenda. Scientifically based decision-making that is informed by the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples is a deeply rooted principle of the Council.
  • Groundbreaking reports have been prepared and have attracted global attention to the state of the Arctic environment. The latest of these is the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment.

The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA)

  • The assessment, released last winter, was the result of four years of closely examining scientific evidence and traditional knowledge of climate change in the Arctic.In much of the Arctic the impacts of global climate change are already being felt, as many peoples are experiencing warmer temperatures.
  • Warming in the Arctic is expected to be faster and more severe than in the rest of the world
  • What the authors of the ACIA expect to happen generally in the Arctic is an increase in temperatures of:
    • 1ºC by about 2020
    • 2ºC by about 2050
    • 3ºC by about 2080
  • Ice cover, a critical component of the Arctic ecosystem, has been steadily diminishing over the past 30 years. Some scientific models say the Arctic will have no sea ice in the summer as soon as 2030.
  • All of the effects in the Arctic will also affect the rest of the world, because the Arctic in a major driver of the world's weather. The warmer currents that modify winter weather in northern Europe may slow or even stop as a result of climate change. This would result in much lower winter temperatures in the north-western part of Europe.
  • Amongst the people of the Arctic, indigenous peoples are particularly affected by the warming climate. Whether they still pursue traditional economies of hunting, fishing and gathering, or whether they participate in newer ways of life, indigenous peoples stand to be affected in ways that in some cases threaten the basis of their culture.
  • Some species of Arctic wildlife are deemed by the assessment to be threatened with extinction. These include polar bears and some species of seal. This is particularly alarming for Inuit, many of whom still rely on seals as a basic food.
  • Reindeer herders, such as Saami and some Russian indigenous peoples are at risk as climate change alters the pasture available for the herds. Increased winter freezing and thawing can lock forage for reindeer, caribou, and other large herbivores beneath a sheet of ice, resulting in increased herd mortality.
  • Climate change is one more threat on top of many other challenges facing indigenous peoples in the Arctic, including accumulations of toxic chemicals, increasing development pressures, and the struggle to regain rights to land and self-government.

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