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Arctic nations' wealth key to management of climate change

Arctic nations have the wealth and scientific understanding to alter the course of global climate change, if they choose to do so, writes F.S. (Terry) Chapin III, of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, in a paper to be published August 9, 2006 in the journal Ambio.

Chapin, professor of ecology at the Institute of Arctic Biology, and co-authors offer local-to-global policy recommendations to manage Arctic conditions resulting from thawing permafrost, melting sea ice, and relaxation of thermal thresholds. “Nations that govern Arctic lands account for about 40% of global CO2 emissions and therefore have a substantial capacity to reduce the rates of Arctic change,” write the authors.

Among the authors’ recommendations are that Arctic nations should designate marine protected areas, designate co-managed reserve networks, foster economic adaptation to global change, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “A lot of the recommendations for policy change deal with enhancing the capacity of northern regions to be flexible and adaptable to cope with changes, some of which we can predict, and others of which will be surprises,” said Chapin.

An increasingly ice-free Arctic Ocean could be zoned to include marine protected areas, designated shipping lanes, and fishing areas co-managed by local residents and government managers. If reserve networks were implemented, they would likely make important contributions to maintaining biodiversity, providing nursery stocks for adjacent fished areas, and ensuring against mismanagement or unexpected events outside the reserves. Economic adaptation is likely to be most effective if it includes incentives to encourage economic diversity and entrepreneurship rather than subsidies for traditional sectors adversely affected by Arctic change.

“There is a long, perhaps 50-year, time lag between implementation of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and a large change in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, so reducing greenhouse gas emissions is important but insufficient. We will also need to deal with the consequences of the warming that is already under way,” Chapin said.

Conditions are now ideal to implement initiatives to manage Arctic change, write the authors. They cite the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment and Arctic Human Development Report as providing enough information to make well-informed decisions. “We do not need to delay action until some future time when we will ‘know enough’ to act,” said Chapin.

The Arctic is biologically connected to the rest of the world through annual migrations of whales, fish, and birds. Polar regions provide the cooling mechanism for the planet and are the major source of nonmarine water in ice caps and glaciers. Because of these and other human services provided by the Arctic ecosystem, the global community has a vested interest in fostering both environmental resilience and human adaptation.

“The bulk of anthropogenic activity driving global change occurs outside the Arctic and is therefore only weakly coupled to changes occurring within Arctic. This decoupling of causes from the effects of Arctic change reduces the likelihood that people will modify their behavior globally to slow the rates of Arctic change,” writes Chapin.

Additional Information:

Arctic Climate Impact Assessment ( assesses the environmental, ecological, and social changes that are most likely to occur in response to changing climate, including their effects on society. The ACIA is the first comprehensive documentation of recent and projected patterns of arctic change. Previous assessments have been either global (giving only modest details about how the arctic will change) or have considered only a few localities or processes.

Arctic Human Development Report ( focuses on multiple drivers of change (including social and economic change) and considers only the effects on society and potential adaptations. AHDR synthesizes the societal consequences of the multiple changes that are occurring in the north.

The ACIA and AHDR rely on data published in the peer-reviewed literature; the information is not new, but the synthesis and integration of the information is new.

Marie Gilbert | EurekAlert!
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