A new United Nations report warns that winter temperatures in the Arctic are still "locked in" to rise 3-5°C by 2050 and 5-9°C by 2080—with devastating consequences for the region and global sea levels—even if the international community cuts planet-warming emissions in line with the goals of the Paris climate agreement.
Global Linkages: A Graphic Look at the Changing Arctic (pdf) features maps and graphics about climate change, pollution prevention, and biodiversity conservation in the region. While the visual aids have an Arctic focus, they draw connections between what happens in the Arctic and the rest of the world.
Even if the world were to cut emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, winter temperatures in the Arctic would rise
3-5°C by 2050 &
5-9°C by 2080
— UN Environment (@UNEnvironment) March 14, 2019
The report was prepared by U.N. Environment (UNEP) and the Norwegian foundation GRID-Arendal, in close consultation with the Arctic Council. It is a product of the UNEP's Sixth Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-6), a comprehensive assessment released Wednesday, as U.N. Environment Assembly (UNEA-4) is held in Nairobi, Kenya.
Both Global Linkages and the GEO-6 underscore the vital importance of policymakers pursuing a coordinated global effort to drive down greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). As the report points out, "even if we stopped all emissions overnight, winter temperatures in the Arctic will still increase by 4 to 5°C compared to the late twentieth century."
While human-generated GHGs boost temperatures on a global scale, warming occurs faster in the Arctic. That's because of a phenomenon called Arctic or polar amplification—which, the report explains, "causes higher temperatures near the poles compared to the planetary average because of a combination of feedback processes."
Rising temperatures, along with ocean acidification, pollution, and thawing permafrost threaten the Arctic—and the more than four million people who inhabit it, including 10 percent who are Indigenous. But, as UNEP acting executive director Joyce Msuya noted Wednesday, "What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic."
Elaborating, Msuya said: "We have the science; now more urgent climate action is needed to steer away from tipping points that could be even worse for our planet than we first thought."
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These worrisome tipping points include the thawing of permafrost, or ground that traps carbon as long as it remains frozen. Comparing permafrost thaw to awakening a "sleeping giant," the report warns that the process "could release large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and derail efforts to meet the long-term goal of the Paris agreement."
In addition to demanding that world leaders work together to meet the Paris agreement's goals, the report also calls for various locally focused efforts, including: adaptation that integrates and respects local and Indigenous knowledge; strengthening global mechanisms to prevent chemical and plastic pollution in the region; international coordination to protect migratory species; and further research that examines climate change, pollution, and biodiversity in the Arctic.
Politicians, experts, and activists responded to the report with both alarm and renewed demands for rapidly reforming unsustainable human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, that lead to global warming:
TRIGGER WARNING ON CLIMATE NEWS (see below)
new UN report says we're "locked in" for 3-5 degrees celcius warming in arctic. my god looks like parts are on track for 12 degrees by 2100. green new deal is an imperative to save civilization. new report: https://t.co/FiGeKLKME0
— Pete Sikora (@PeteSikora1) March 14, 2019
New study: if we stop emissions immediately, Arctic still warms 5C/9F by century's end. We're not stopping global warming any more; we're fighting like hell for a level that civilizations might survive. #ClimateStrike https://t.co/tTzD7E7mFo
— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) March 14, 2019
"Sharp and potentially devastating temperature rises of 3-5C in the Arctic are now inevitable even if the world succeeds in cutting greenhouse emissions in line with the Paris agreement"
— Extinction Rebellion Berlin (@XRBerlin) March 13, 2019
Winters expected to warm by 5-9 C before the century ends. Think about that for a moment. The region will be devastated. The permafrost-carbon feedback will help force global avg temp past 2 C warming. Urgent action is needed.https://t.co/SvH2s9DDTs
— Michael Rawlins (@MichaelARawlins) March 14, 2019
"The urgency to achieve the goals of the Paris agreement is clearly manifested in the Arctic, because it is one of the most vulnerable and rapidly changing regions in the world," Finland's environmental minister Kimmo Tiilikainen said in a statement. "We need to make substantial near-term cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, black carbon, and other so-called short-lived climate pollutants all over the world."