Missing Arctic ice a reminder of climate urgency | WWF
Missing Arctic ice a reminder of climate urgency

Posted on 19 September 2017

Sea ice hit a low of 4.64 million square kilometres on September 13.

As the Arctic’s sea ice reaches its annual minimum, the ice extent is yet again well below average - a timely reminder of how much harder we must work to achieve the 1.5C goal set by nearly 200 countries in the global climate Paris Agreement.

Figures from the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre show that sea ice hit a low of 4.64 million square kilometres on September 13, 1.58 million km2 below average. The Arctic has not seen an above average September ice extent in 16 years. This year marks the eighth lowest extent.

Nowhere are the effects of a warming climate being felt faster and deeper than in the Arctic. Even if the world meets the terms of the Paris Agreement, the Arctic is still expected to warm an additional 3° to 5°C, impacting the region’s rich biodiversity and the lives of those who depend on it. 

The additional warming is largely due to a feedback loop. As warming water and air melt the Arctic’s ice, the newly exposed ocean absorbs even more solar energy in turn. Exposed ocean also means more Arctic shipping, accompanied by black carbon emissions that settle on the ice and absorb even more heat - a runaway reaction that is melting the Arctic as we know it. 

WWF’s Arctic Programme Leader Alexander Shestakov said: 
“In August, President Sauli Niinistö of Finland called for reduced emissions, saying ‘...if we lose the Arctic, we lose the globe. That is reality.” Emissions, both of greenhouse gases and black carbon from increased Arctic shipping, are creating a perfect storm in the Arctic. We applaud Finland for its strong vision as the country takes leadership of the Arctic Council, and we urge Arctic states and others to prioritize the reduction of black carbon emissions and further cooperate on achieving Paris targets.”

WWF’s global Climate & Energy Practice Leader Manuel Pulgar-Vidal said: 
“The continuing trend of sea ice loss in the Arctic shows that the global community has much work to do to meet the 1.5°C target. It is critical we work together to immediately on solutions available now to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions, like scaling up renewable energy deployment, both in the Arctic and around the globe.”

About the Paris Agreement

  • The Paris Agreement, approved in December 2015, commits nearly 200 countries to pursue all efforts to limit global temperature increase to 1.5°C to stave off some of the worst impacts of a warming planet.
  • 2016 was the hottest year on record. Last year, annual global average temperature rose to a record 1°C above pre-industrial levels.  
  • Even if we could stop emissions today without damaging the global economy, temperatures will continue to rise by a few tenths of a degree over the coming decades.
  • Limiting warming to a  1.5 C average increase would result in reduced sea level rise, shorter tropical heat waves, and potentially fewer extreme weather events like the devastating rains and floods recently affecting India, the United States, Bangladesh and Nepal.

About the sea ice minimum

  • Arctic sea ice generally reaches its lowest annual extent in September.
  • The minimum extent in 2017 is the 8th lowest recorded since satellite monitoring began in 1979.
  • Following a series of Arctic heat waves this past autumn, NSIDC reported the lowest sea ice extent ever recorded in March.

About WWF

WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with almost five million supporters and a global network active in more than 100 countries. WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.    
Arctic sea ice extent on September 13, 2017.
© National Snow and Ice Data Center
Sea ice floe edge near Pond Inlet, Nunavut, Canada.
© WWF / Pete Ewins