Fighting climate change in the Arctic

Geographical location:

Europe/Middle-East > -Regions- > Arctic

Europe/Middle-East > Eastern Europe > Russian Federation
Europe/Middle-East > Europe General

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) on pack ice, Arctic circle, Russian Federation.
© WWF / www.JSGrove.com

Summary

The Arctic is melting. Air temperatures in large parts of the region have increased and summer sea ice cover is shrinking. Arctic wildlife is already feeling the heat. According to some climate models, polar bears are unlikely to survive if there is a complete loss of sea ice cover.

WWF raises awareness on the effects of climate change in the Arctic to encourage government policies and actions to reverse it as well as assist in implementing strategies for species, ecosystems and local cultures to cope with a changing climate.

Background

The Arctic is melting. Air temperatures in large parts of the region have increased by as much as five degrees centigrade over the last 100 years. Summer sea ice cover is shrinking by nearly ten percent per decade. Large new areas of permafrost thawing have developed. The changes are being driven by global warming gases like carbon dioxide.

Arctic wildlife is already feeling the heat. According to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), polar bears are unlikely to survive as a species if there is a complete loss of sea ice cover in summer, as is projected by some climate models. The bears rely completely on sea ice to hunt their prey.

The ACIA also states that changes in weather and ice conditions, species’ range and availability, etc, may threaten the very survival of some indigenous cultures in the North.

The results of computer modeling vary, but all show a clear trend towards warming in the Arctic and melting of sea ice. Some suggest that before the end of this century, sea ice will completely disappear during the summer months. For a variety of reasons, the Arctic warms up two to three times faster than the global average. A slight shift in temperature bringing averages above freezing will completely alter the character of the region. Where once ice covered the seas and permafrost stabilized the ground, open water and large tracts of marshy tundra will dominate. The consequences for all species will be severe.

A melting Arctic also speeds up global warming: dark surfaces exposed under melting snow and ice absorb heat instead of reflecting it, and methane released when permafrost thaws, is a powerful greenhouse gas.

Objectives

1. In cooperation with WWF's global climate team, work to ensure that by 2010 the world has made significant progress to stay below a 2 degree C increase in global average temperature (in comparison to pre-industrial level) .

2. Put in place resilience mechanisms for species and peoples of the Arctic to adapt to a changing environment, helping them get through the transition phase until the climate has stabilized at non-critical levels.

Solution

The work of WWF’s Arctic Climate Change Focal Project is based on the ground, and Indigenous peoples of the north are important partners for WWF in all field projects.

So-called Climate Witness projects give voice to people who are already experiencing climate change. In our first Climate Witness in the Arctic, high school students from the Native Athabascan community of Huslia in interior Alaska produced a series of four radio programmes, letting community members tell the world about how they are being affected by climate change. You can listen to the programs at www.panda.org/arctic. In addition, stories on climate change from Chukotka, Russia, can be found on our web pages, and web and video materials are being developed from Climate Witness projects in Nunavut, Canada; and on Alaska’s Bering Sea coast.

WWF is working to build resilience towards climate change in ecosystems and communities, - our first field project on resilience-building is being developed in partnership with relevant institutions and organizations in the Nenets Region in Northwest Russia. The first project components will be completed in March 2007. We are also developing a project on fisheries and climate change in Alaska, and one on adaptation of polar bear management in Chukotka, Russia.

Polar bears are strong symbols of the Arctic and can be used to illustrate the potential impacts of climate change. On the website Polar Bear Tracker, people can follow polar bears fitted with collars transmitting information on the bears’ movements, and read about their relation to climate change. WWF also supports some of the world’s leading polar bear scientists in their field studies in Hudson Bay, Canada.

Achievement

A major achievement for the Arctic Climate Change Project came in connection with the publication of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment in November 2004. ACIA’s strong scientific message received global media coverage, as did WWF’s solutions message. ACIA also put arctic climate change on the public’s media map, and on the radar screens of government decision-makers in the arctic countries.

WWF helped keep up the pressure on decision-makers from the arctic countries and remind them of the action needed to follow up on ACIA. The ACIA policy recommendations were a long way off being as strong and clear on the need for mitigative action on climate change as WWF would have wanted. However, in large part pressure from WWF and other independent stakeholders achieved that a policy document was approved, and that certain issues, such as the need for resilience-building plans for ecosystems, were kept in the document.

The launch of the report “2 degrees is too much! Evidence and implications of dangerous climate change in the Arctic”, in January 2005, was another major success. In a week with many competing climate change-related news in connection with a high-level conference on climate change, the WWF international press release and report received extensive attention in media across Europe and North America, as well as some pick-up in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Donate to WWF

Your support will help us build a future where humans live in harmony with nature.