Warming Arctic’s global impacts worse than predicted | WWF-Canada

Warming Arctic’s global impacts worse than predicted

Posted on 02 September 2009
Sea ice on the shores of north Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada.
© Lee NARRAWAY / WWF-Canada
Numerous Arctic climate feedbacks will make global climate change more severe than indicated by other recent projections, including those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 assessment.

These feedbacks include: severe flooding, affecting one quarter of the world’s population; substantial increases in greenhouse gas emissions from massive carbon pools; and extreme global weather changes, faster than predicted. Simply put, if the Arctic is not kept cold enough, people around the world will suffer the effects.

"Think of the Arctic as the refrigerator for the planet that helps keeps global warming at bay," said Craig Stewart, Director of WWF-Canada's Arctic program. "Right now, we’re melting the ice in the chiller and the gas escaping is one of the most potent greenhouse gases in existence. Not only are we turning off the fridge, these feedbacks mean we're using it to heat our house."

The Arctic is warming at twice the global average causing the dramatic loss of sea ice. Nearly 40% of sea ice that was present in the 1970s was lost by 2007, which will severely influence atmospheric circulation and weather in the Arctic and beyond. The warming of the Arctic is projected to change temperature and precipitation patterns in Europe and North America, affecting agriculture, forestry and water supplies.

In addition, the Arctic’s frozen soil and wetlands store twice as much carbon as are held in the atmosphere. As warming in the Arctic continues, the soil will increasingly thaw and release carbon into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane, at significantly increased rates. Levels of atmospheric methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas, have been increasing for the past two years, and it is believed that the increase comes from the warming Arctic tundra.

In a first-of-its kind assessment, incorporating the fate of the ice sheets of Greenland and West Antarctica into global sea level projections, the WWF report concludes that sea-levels will very likely rise by more than one meter by 2100 – more than twice the amount given in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 assessment. The associated flooding of coastal regions will affect more than a quarter of the world’s population.

“People here in Canada and around the world are going to see significant negative change if we don't act quickly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Gerald Butts, President and CEO of WWF-Canada. "This is why our federal government needs to be a leader in Copenhagen because the future of the Arctic is the future of Canada.”

In December 2009, the governments of 191 countries will meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, to negotiate a new global agreement on climate change. The current agreement, the 'Kyoto Protocol', will end in December 2012. These negotiations are critical to establish and approve a new legal framework for global climate action moving forward.

WWF has joined with other organizations to produce a model climate treaty for Copenhagen that is fair, effective, and science-based and gives the world a blueprint for achieving the kind of emission cuts needed to avoid Arctic feedbacks.

“We need to listen now to these signals from the Arctic” said James Leape, Director General of WWF-International. “World leaders need to take the necessary action in Copenhagen this December to get a deal that quickly and effectively limits greenhouse gas emissions.”


For more information, contact:
Tara Wood, Manager, Media and PR, WWF-Canada, o) 416-484-7710, c) 647-400-9579, twood@wwfcanada.org

Available for comment:

Craig Stewart, Director, Arctic Program, WWF-Canada, 613-852-1316, cstewart@wwfcanada.org

Dr. Martin Sommerkorn - The Arctic Climate Feedbacks Report, +47 926 06 995, msommerkorn@wwf.no

Kim Carstensen - Director, WWF Global Climate Initiative, +45 40 34 36 35, k.carstensen@wwf.dk

Clive Tesar , Head of Communications, WWF International Arctic Programme (Canada): (+1) 613 232 2535, ctesar@wwf.no


* A videotaped interview with Dr. Sommerkorn, and clips from an accompanying multi-media presentation are available for download from http://www.divshare.com/folder/587835-7d0
* The model climate treaty and the Arctic Climate Feedbacks: Global Implications report are available at http://www.panda.org/arctic
Sea ice on the shores of north Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada.
© Lee NARRAWAY / WWF-Canada Enlarge