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What Can the Arctic Governments Do About Climate Change?

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Achim BaquA via Getty Images
Achim BaquA via Getty Images

As Norwegian Ambassador to Canada, I have had the privilege to travel to all three territories and see the life and nature of the Arctic up close. The contrast to the High North in my own country, Norway, is significant, but also within Canada, the realities in Yellowknife differ a lot from those of Inuit communities in Baffin Island. Still, in all communities in the Arctic region, the effects of climate change are tangible and with increasingly dramatic effects for both people and wildlife.

The Arctic is one of the places where climate change is most rapid and easy to observe. As it is also very sparsely populated, it is easy to think that, similar to the small island states in the Pacific, the Arctic peoples have to pay a big price for developments elsewhere. The difference is, however, that the Arctic nations are also large industrial countries with their share and significant responsibility in the battle against carbon emissions.

Indeed, 25 per cent of the world's CO2 emissions come from the Arctic countries alone. That means that when working together, the Arctic nations can have a substantial impact. Nor are the member states of the Arctic Council working alone. If we include the combined emissions from the permanent observers to the Arctic Council, together we stand for 80 PER CENT OF THE WORLD'S EMISSIONS! All countries in the Arctic Council, as well as the permanent observers are, committed to the principles of stewardship and good governance in the Arctic for a sustainable future for the region and its peoples.

The impacts of climate change are already dramatic!

The 2004 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), and the 2011 Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic assessment (SWIPA), illustrate the increasingly dramatic impact of climate change for the Arctic. The impact is not only local, but will have very serious consequences for peoples' living conditions in other parts of the world. For example, the melting of inland ice sheets will have major global impact in terms of rising sea levels and changes in the global weather.

The melting of the ice is also not only a result of higher temperatures, but what we call short-lived climate drivers, such as Black Carbon and Methane, increase it. This demonstrates the heavy responsibility Arctic nations share on reducing local pollutants.

Knowledge is key!

The Arctic Council is the only circumpolar forum for political cooperation at government level. The Arctic Council has been a significant arena for developing knowledge-sharing practices and networks between Arctic nations. By allowing key stakeholders countries outside the Arctic to become permanent observers to the Arctic Council, we have been able to exchange crucial information about the Arctic climate.

In Norway, the research activity in Svalbard is a unique platform for national and international polar research, constituting the northernmost research station in the world. Norway openly shares this hands-on science with our partners.

In order to understand global climate change, we must understand the Arctic. Our continued mission is to act on a local, national, and international level. Inter-disciplinary and cross-sector collaboration between Arctic stakeholders is critical to combating climate change. We must prioritize filling the gaps in our knowledge about the Arctic and focus on research, knowledge-sharing practices and networks, and innovation. Imagine what would happen if all Arctic countries, AND the permanent observers followed this track!

Arctic Council has a clear political role

The Arctic Council itself does not make binding climate agreements, but its political statements are clear. The statements underline the importance of reducing global emissions, and establishing an international agreement aimed at limiting global temperature increases by 2 degrees Celsius. Through the significant work of the different task forces and working groups, the Arctic Council not only disseminates knowledge about climate change in the Arctic, but recommends concrete mitigating actions.

On example: At the 2013 Kiruna Ministerial meeting, where Canada assumed the two-year chair of the Arctic Council, the Arctic Council Ministers established the Task Force for Action on Black Carbon and Methane (TFBCM). The TFBCM's mandate is to develop arrangements on actions to achieve enhanced black carbon and methane emissions reductions in the Arctic.
It is time to act!

As we get closer to the summit on climate change in New York this month, let us remind ourselves, and our leaders, on the role the Arctic plays in this serious challenge. The Arctic is a good indicator on where we are headed if we do not act. Developments in the Arctic also contributes to the challenges elsewhere and will in some cases contribute to accelerating global warming.

This blog is part of a countdown to the annual Transatlantic Science Week (TSW) from October 27-29 2014 in Toronto. TSW2014 focuses on the Arctic: Societies, Sustainability and Safety. This complimentary science & innovation conference is organized by the Norwegian Ministry of Research & Education and the Norwegian Embassies in Ottawa & Washington in conjunction with University of Toronto & the National Research Council of Canada.

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