Article / 07 May, 2019
Espinosa: Fate of Arctic Hinges on Paris Implementation

UN Climate Change News, 07 May 2019 – The UN’s top climate change official, Patricia Espinosa, has warned that full and rapid implementation of the Paris Climate Change Agreement is crucial to protect that Arctic, and that failure to do so would have dire consequences for the entire planet.

The melting of the Greenland ice cap and Arctic glaciers is contributing to around one third of sea level rise worldwide, and there is the risk of accelerating climate feedback loops, given that around half trillion tons of the powerful greenhouse gas methane are trapped in Arctic permafrost and could be released from the melting ice. UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Espinosa said:

“What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic,” she said. “If we want to address climate change in the region, along with all of its associated impacts, we must embrace multilateralism, commit to ratifying the Paris Agreement, and significantly increase climate ambition by 2020 -the date by which new Nationally-Determined Contributions are tabled.” 

Participating in the “International Arctic Forum” that took place in Saint Petersburg last month, Patricia Espinosa said that the Arctic region holds both challenges and opportunities in terms of climate change.

She noted that harnessing the power of technology, in a similar way as in other parts of the world, can help minimize climate impacts, given that the Arctic offers major possibilities related to hydropower, wind, geothermal, tidal and solar energy. 

“There is no rule that says these technologies should remain fixed South of the 60th parallel. If the Arctic is to be opened, we must use the cleanest forms of energy possible,” she said.

Patricia Espinosa also spoke of initiatives showcased by the UN which demonstrate how Arctic populations can benefit from new technology to build resilience to the inevitable impacts of climate change.

One example is a technology dubbed SmartICE Partners, which has been celebrated by the UN Climate Change’s Momentum for Change initiative. This technology allows trained Inuit People operators to acquire and disseminate information on sea-ice thickness and surface characteristics, in near real-time, helping them to make decisions on when and how to travel in increasingly unpredictable and dangerous conditions.

Ms. Espinosa also noted that while the melting glaciers in the Arctic can open economic opportunities in terms of tourism, transportation and resources extraction, greater sustainability needs to be embraced to ensure that economic growth and prosperity are balanced with protecting the delicate environmental realities of the region.

“The only opportunity that exists is the opportunity to address climate change, and businesses and governments who capture these opportunities first will lead the economic future of this century”, she said.

Fragile State of the Arctic

The Arctic is more vulnerable as is it warming at a rate of almost twice the global average. According to the WMO Statement on the state of the global climate in 2018, the Arctic average temperature was notably warm last year, with annual average temperature exceeding 2 degrees Celsius widely and 3 in some places, which is “exceptionally high relative to the long-term average”.

Consequently, the Arctic sea-ice extent was well below average throughout 2018 and, from 1979 to the present, Arctic sea ice has declined by about 40 per cent, according to UN Environment. Climate models predict that, at the current rate of CO2 emissions, Arctic summers will be ice-free by the 2030s.

The raise of temperature in the Arctic zone will also affect the biodiversity of the region. “While the Arctic may appear to some to be a barren, icy landscape, it’s a rich tapestry of interconnected species”, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary said.

Furthermore, the Arctic is a home for thousands of Indigenous People, however their rights throughout the world have been treated as “secondary to economic opportunity” too often in the past. For example, due to climate change and warmer winters, the productivity of boreal forest will increase and number of reindeers will decrease, affecting the livelihoods and culture of the Sami people.

The 5th International Arctic Forum brought together representatives of governments, international organizations, and the scientific and business communities of the region for a focused discussion and comprehensive exchange of views on current issues impacting sustainable growth in the Arctic.