Ecosystems in the Arctic are being threatened by climate change and if humanity doesn’t act fast by putting an end on the use of fossil fuels and reducing emissions, the North Pole will be forced into an irreversible change by global warming thereby having disastrous effects for the people that live there and for the rest of the planet, researchers have said in a report.
According to a report for the Arctic Council, an inter-governmental forum working to protect the region’s environment, Arctic’s condition is worsening by the day with increase in melting of ice, rising sea levels, erosion of coastal areas, thawing of permafrost as well as shifting of areas on which plants and animals in the region are living.
The report has identified a total of 19 “regime shifts” in Arctic’s land and water – meaning major, hard-to-predict tipping points – that have happened, or could occur in near future. Two of these tipping points are switch to sea-ice free summers and the collapse of various fish stocks. Authors of the report point out that these shifts have the potential of affecting the stability of the climate and landscape in the region, the ability of plant and animal species to survive, and indigenous peoples’ subsistence and ways of life.
The Arctic Resilience Report is the culmination of a five-year scientific effort to better understand the nature of Arctic change, including critical tipping points. It also examines the factors that support resilience, and the kinds of choices that strengthen adaptive capacity.
The report builds on a large and growing body of research on environmental change in the Arctic, but adds substantial new insights by drawing on resilience science to integrate social and ecological perspectives.
While the work behind the report has been substantial and deep, researchers say that one of the major issues that scientists are yet to understand is how regime shifts interact with one another and how multiple regime shifts when work in tandem could result into a catastrophe.
The study also examines how Arctic people are adapting to change. It finds multiple examples of communities that have lost their livelihoods and are struggling to survive or maintain their cultural identity. Climate change is severely affecting the Arctic livelihoods and people. If major steps are not taken rapidly, the resilience of the Arctic will be overwhelmed.
Still, the report highlights several examples of resilient Arctic communities that have maintained traditional whaling, reindeer herding and other practices despite external shocks. Others have transformed themselves: from nomadic hunters to internationally recognized artists in Cape Dorset, Nunavut, Canada, for instance, and from fishing to whale-watching tours in Húsavík, Iceland.
The single most important factor in resilience, the analysis shows, is the ability to self-organize and respond to challenges as a community. Other key factors for resilience are the ability to draw on diverse knowledge sources, including local traditions as well as science; having diversity (e.g. in livelihoods); and being able to navigate change and uncertainty.
The study also examines the role of the Arctic Council in building resilience, which is complex not least because diverse Arctic actors define their interests and goals in the region in very different ways: Some see it as a home, others as a source of minerals and other resources, others mostly for its role as a key part of a global system of climate regulation.
The Arctic Council has been effective at fostering cooperation in a variety of important ways; now it just needs to enhance its efforts, the report finds.