Many eyes are turning north to the Arctic, some in horror at the rapid decline of a key component of our life support system, others in eager anticipation at the untapped resources beneath the vanishing snow and ice.
Rapid and even abrupt changes are occurring on multiple fronts across the Arctic, according to the Arctic Resilience Report (ARR). And what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic.
The ARR report is a two-year collaboration between experts in the Nordic countries, Russia, Canada and the United States, and includes indigenous perspectives. It is a cutting edge assessment of how changes in climate, ecosystems, economics, and society interact.
Global warming is not only melting snow and ice, it is warming the Arctic ocean and the surrounding lands. Seasons are changing, permafrost is thawing, new species are invading, Arctic species are struggling, lakes are vanishing, and rivers are being redirected by the melting landscape, the report documents.
Some Arctic ecosystems are undergoing catastrophic changes, and some of these are large-scale and irreversible.
While the Arctic is as remote as the moon for many people, it is intimately interconnected with the rest of the world. Weather is driven largely by the cold Arctic and Antarctic regions balanced by the hot tropics.
But the Arctic is rapidly defrosting – last summer the sea ice shrunk to half of what it was less than 30 years ago. The ice decline and the heating up of the Arctic have been accelerating in recent years.
The Arctic is home to cultures and species found nowhere else and they can’t go any further north to escape the rising temperatures. It is a real struggle to survive, said Tero Mustonen, president of Snowchange Cooperative, a network of local and indigenous cultures around the world.
However, the focus of the eight-nation Arctic Council was primarily on future shipping opportunities, access to oil, gas and mineral resources, and geopolitics, with China, Japan, India, South Korea, Singapore and Italy granted observer status on the Council while Canada blocked the European Union’s application.
The Council is the world’s main international forum on northern issues and will be led by Canada for the next two years. Canada said it will focus on economic development.
Estimates show that the region may have 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil, 30 percent of undiscovered gas deposits, and vast quantities of mineral resources.
The Council’s much-lauded scientific research will now be focused on how to develop northern resources for the benefit of northerners. Canada recently drew criticism for re-directing its own scientific research to supporting business and industry.
Greenpeace International said the oil pollution agreement offered no specific practical minimum standards and had no provisions to hold companies liable for the full costs and damages.
Arctic peoples aren’t necessarily opposed to economic development but they do want to be in control of what happens. However, Arctic nations and local communities are at very different stages. In Finland and Russia, indigenous people have no official land or water rights, unlike Canada or Alaska, said Mustonen.
Source: Stephen Leahy | IPS News