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 and 5-9°C by 2080, devastating the region and unleashing sea level rises worldwide, finds a new report by UN Environment.
Meanwhile, rapidly thawing permafrost could even accelerate climate change further and derail efforts to meet the Paris Agreement’s long-term goal of limiting the rise in global temperature to 2°C, warns Global Linkages – A graphic look at the changing Arctic.
Other environmental pressures on the Arctic identified by the paper – released at the United Nations Environment Assembly – include ocean acidification and plastic pollution.
“What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic,” said Joyce Msuya, UN Environment’s Acting Executive Director. “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.”
Even if global emissions were to halt overnight, winter temperatures in the Arctic would still increase 4 to 5°C by 2100 compared to the late 20th century, the study finds. This increase is locked into the climate system by greenhouse gases already emitted and ocean heat storage.
Arctic societies now must respond to climate change through suitable adaptation actions. Arctic Indigenous Peoples already face increased food insecurity. By 2050, four million people, and around 70% of today’s Arctic infrastructure, will be threatened by thawing permafrost, the report notes.
“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,” said the Finnish Minister of the Environment, Energy and Housing, Kimmo Tiilikainen. “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.”
The impacts globally would also be huge. From 1979 to the present, Arctic sea ice is estimated to have declined by 40%. Climate models predict that, at the current rate of CO₂ emissions, Arctic summers will be ice-free by the 2030s. The melting of the Greenland ice cap and Arctic glaciers contribute to one third of sea level rise worldwide.
Even if the Paris Agreement is met, Arctic permafrost is expected to shrink 45% compared to today. Globally, these frozen soils hold an estimated 1,672 billion metric tonnes of carbon. Increased thawing is expected to contribute significantly to carbon dioxide and methane emissions. The resulting warming will in turn lead to more thawing – an effect known as ‘positive feedback’. This accelerated climate change could even throw the Paris Agreement’s 2°C goal off track, the report underlines.
Ocean acidification and pollution taking their toll
Ocean acidification is disproportionately impacting Arctic marine species. This is because cold water can hold more dissolved CO2, while melting ice spreads the acidity further. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the world’s ocean has become 30% more acidic. The more acidic the water, the more energy Arctic corals, molluscs, sea urchins and plankton must use to build their shells and skeletons.
Despite its pristine image, the Arctic’s geographical characteristics and cold climate mean the region’s ocean, seafloor and coastline are a sink for contaminants from around the globe. Only 1,000 out of the 150,000 chemical substances in use worldwide are regularly monitored. A global approval system for new chemicals is therefore needed, the report argues. Alternative controls are also seen as necessary for chemicals that fall outside of existing treaties.
On a positive note, the amount of regulated chemicals in humans and animals living in the Arctic was found to be decreasing. These include some Persistent Organic Pollutants regulated under UN Environment’s Stockholm Convention. However, the decrease could be due to changing diets.
Milestones in National and Global Commitments to Tackling Deforestation
The World Economic Forum’s Tropical Forest Alliance annual meeting, which has concluded in the Colombian capital, Bogotá, has seen a number of commitments that will contribute to the Alliance’s goal of protecting the world’s tropical rainforests.
The meeting took place the same week world scientists warned that deforestation was one of the key drivers of ecological collapse, with up to 1 million species at risk of extinction (according to the Intergovernmental science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services – IPBES report).
The meeting convened over 200 leaders from government, business and civil society and was co-hosted by the Colombian government. With over 50% of its land area forested, Colombia has the second-highest biodiversity density in the world after Brazil.
Important outcomes from the meeting included:
The launch by the Colombian government of a $20 million BioCarbon Fund aimed at reducing deforestation and degradation, promoting smart agriculture and sustainable land use – the funding corresponds to commitments by the governments of Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom
The Colombian government’s successful conclusion of an agreement with the meat and dairy industries to eliminate deforestation – the two strategic sectors complement existing agreements on cocoa and palm oil in the country
The German government, through the Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMU) and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), joined the Tropical Forest Alliance
Among other outcomes from the meeting were agreements to promote South-South cooperation at the national and sub-national level. These groups, along with business and civil society leaders, have agreed to hold a special meeting during the UN Climate Action Summit 2019 in September.
In his address to the Alliance, the President of Colombia, Iván Duque, expressed strong commitment to stop tropical deforestation. The actions and commitment of the Colombian government mark an important milestone in the global fight against deforestation. Deforestation has actually increased in the country since the peace agreement was signed and, in response, the government has developed an integrated strategy that involves fighting illegality, advancing deforestation-free supply chains, promoting restoration and implementing an innovative carbon tax.
Colombia will join a growing list of countries determined to champion the role of nature-based solutions to address climate change in New York in September.
“It’s quite simple. Life on earth isn’t possible without forests because they are integral to ecosystems and livelihoods around the world. While the original commitment was to eliminate deforestation from commodity supply chains by 2020, companies and governments have made important progress to enhance transparency and clean up supply chains over the last decade. It is only by coming together and harnessing the power of the full Alliance to force through real systemic change that protecting our forests for future generations can be achieved,” said Justin Adams, Director, Tropical Forest Alliance.
“Colombia is proud to host this meeting to showcase how we are advancing to differentiate our production of palm oil and cocoa as deforestation-free on the world stage, and to take the beef and dairy supply chains along that same route. Currently we face a spike of deforestation in the Colombian Amazon and the TFA meeting provided an opportunity to involve companies in reversing these trends by understanding their supply chains and working to eliminate any trace of deforestation from them. Thus, the private sector can be part of the solution and help us tackle this complex problem,” said Roberto Esmeral,
Vice-Minister of Territorial Environmental Planning of the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development of Colombia.
In 2010, members of the Consumer Goods Forum, including many major food and consumer goods companies, committed to end deforestation in key supply chains. Governments, businesses, civil society and indigenous people’s organizations further strengthened commitments in 2014 by endorsing the New York Declaration on Forests, which called for halving global deforestation rates by 2020 and ending it by 2030.
The Tropical Forest Alliance was brought into the World Economic Forum in 2015 to accelerate action on deforestation in the run-up to 2020 and beyond.
Climate change: ‘A moral, ethical and economic imperative’ to slow global warming
It is nothing less than a “moral, ethical and economic imperative” to take more action to mitigate the existential threat posed by climate change, said top executives from across the United Nations system on Thursday.
Calling on Member States to take “urgent action to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”, the leaders of more than 30 UN agencies and entities, issued a formal, joint appeal for governments everywhere to “step up ambition and take concrete action” ahead of the landmark Climate Action Summit, which has been convened by UN chief António Guterres this September.
The appeal noted that to keep rising temperatures down, countries had to strive to “fulfil their obligations on human rights, including the right to health, the right to food security, the right to development, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women, intergenerational equity, and decent work and a just transition for all, as stated in the Paris Agreement.”
As set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming, limiting global warming to 1.5°C “is necessary to prevent irreversible changes. Achieving this goal will require changes on an unprecedented scale at all levels, but it is still possible if we act now”, said the UN system-wide appeal.
“With great urgency we call upon Member States to come to New York in September with concrete, realistic plans to enhance their nationally determined contributions by 2020 and in support to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.”
The communique issued after consultations during a meeting of the UN Chief Executives Board for Coordination, called on countries to ensure that appropriate “adaptation measures” are taken to protect people, jobs and ecosystems, “particularly people in those regions most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change including those at risk through forced displacement and migration.”
$100 billion per year by 2020, for climate action
On the crucial issue of paying for the ambitious measures which need to be taken, the appeal described climate finance as “critical to deliver action on the necessary scale to address climate change…developed countries must deliver on the goal of mobilizing governments and the private sector to achieve the goal of $100 billion per year by 2020, to support climate action in developing countries and further enhance their efforts on scaling-up financial resources.”
And in the race to innovate, the appeal calls for greater ambition, noting that “the Fourth Industrial Revolution offers tremendous potential for a paradigm shift to low-emission, climate-resilient development pathways.”
The UN system is supporting “the enhancement of capacity of Member States to develop and utilize relevant data and technological innovations, to find solutions for climate and sustainable development challenges and disaster risk reduction and management, including the use of new and emerging technologies, including information and communication technologies, data and tools.
And the UN is going to practice what it is preaching from the Secretariat and beyond. “We will present our system-wide efforts towards reaching climate neutrality in our internal operations by 2020 and enhancing environmental and social sustainability in all UN activities”, says the joint appeal.
UN and African Union in ‘common battle’ for development and climate change financing
UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called for a “quantum leap” in funding for development and climate change for Africa, speaking to journalists on Monday, following the plenary meeting of the latest United Nations-African Union (AU) Conference, which took place in New York.
Mr. Guterres declared that the Organization’s work to promote peace and security, human rights, development and climate action, can only progress in Africa if the UN works hand in hand with the AU.
The UN chief emphasised the “alignment” between the UN’s and African Union’s respective plans to ramp up inclusive and environmentally responsible economic development: the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.
The common battle they face, he continued, is to secure the necessary financing for development, particularly for Africa. Mr. Guterres said that development there is a “fundamental precondition” for a more peaceful world, and for well-managed migration, and, therefore, that improved funding is “in the interests of the whole international community.”
With regard to climate change, the Secretary-General warned that more ambition is needed, because “we are not winning the battle,” and Africa is disproportionately affected: “the African continent practically does not contribute to climate change, but the African continent is one of the areas of the world where the impact of climate change is more dramatic and devastating.”
A joint communiqué released on Monday by the UN and African Union welcomed the “strong cooperation and collaboration between the two organizations”, and committed to continue to work closely together in addressing peace and security issues, and achieving sustainable development issues in Africa.
The communiqué described the UN Climate Action Summit, which will take place in September, as “critical to mobilize the needed partnerships, resources” necessary to achieve international climate action goals, and noted the agreement of the leaders of both organizations to further strengthen their cooperation on adaptation for climate change ahead of the Summit and beyond.
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