Grim reports mark first day of Arctic Council meetings

Grim reports mark first day of Arctic Council meetings
Increasing amounts of fresh water to the Arctic reduces the ocean’s capacity to neutralize acidification, according to a new study by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme.Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Canada barely had a day to assume the chair position of the Arctic Council  before it was bombarded by doom and gloom reports of polar meltdown, extensive ocean acidification and loss of biodiversity last week.

Three separate reports sounded alarms on the state of the Arctic environment on the first day of Arctic Council meetings in Kiruna, Sweden last Wednesday, pressuring the international body to quickly address the growing issue of climate change.

“As climate belts move north, large parts of the Arctic may lose their specific Arctic ecosystems and biodiversity,” said Hans Meltofte, chief scientist for the Arctic Biodiversity Assessment, one of the reports released May 15.

“The Arctic is home to thousands of unique cold-adapted species, many of which are found only there. But with climate change and increased interest in the region, if we do not act now we may lose the incredible assets and fascination that Arctic biodiversity offers us all.”

The assessment, done by the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), presented key findings showing that Arctic biodiversity is being degraded by climate change, overharvest, habitat destruction and pollution, and calls for international cooperation to find comprehensive solutions.

Climate change, overharvest, habitat destruction and pollution are threatening already-weakened Arctic plants and animals, such as the arctic fox, according to a report from the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna.

Photo: Carsten Egevang

Climate change, overharvest, habitat destruction and pollution are threatening already-weakened Arctic plants and animals, such as the arctic fox, according to a report from the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna.

“Climate change is by far the most serious threat to Arctic biodiversity and exacerbates all other threats,” the report states.

A second report on the extensive acidification of the Arctic Ocean by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) shows the average acidity of the world’s oceans has increased by 30 per cent over the last 200 years, and the Arctic is particularly vulnerable.

The study shows Arctic water is rapidly absorbing CO2 from human activity, which is decreasing the pH of the ocean and affecting marine ecosystems in the Arctic – populations already weakened by increasing temperatures and melting sea ice.

The second phase of the Arctic Ocean Review by the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment Working Group of the Arctic Council was also up for review last week. The report provides an analysis of the legal and regulatory instruments relevant to the Arctic Ocean and identifies gaps and opportunities for further cooperation.

Along with the three reports, the opening of the Arctic Council meetings was marked by an alarming piece of data from a monitoring station in Mauna Loa, Hawaii, which reported carbon dioxide readings in the atmosphere of over 400 parts per million (ppm) for an entire day – the first time in probably three million years.

CO2 readings over 400 ppm were seen in the Arctic last year, but did not last for the entire 24-hour period.

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