The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) was produced by more than 250 scientists for arctic governments. It provides incontrovertible proof that climate change is happening in the Arctic and that it will get worse more quickly unless emissions of carbon dioxide are cut. A warmer Arctic will also have impacts around the world, contributing to global warming and sea level rise.
"The big melt has begun," said Nicola Saltman, climate change programme leader at WWF.
"Life on earth will change beyond recognition with the loss of the ice sheet at the north pole and higher sea levels threatening major global cities such as London and other coastal communities.
"This report shows that climate change is happening now and highlights the urgent need for immediate action, starting with the Arctic governments, who must reduce their CO2 emissions."
WWF welcomes the report but highlights the hypocrisy of those governments which sponsored it because they have failed to cut emissions of carbon dioxide. The eight arctic countries emit more than 30 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions.
Key findings in the report are:
- Human-induced changes in arctic climate are among the largest on earth. Warming in the Arctic will be around two or three times greater than the rest of the world;
- polar bears could become extinct by the end of this century. They are very unlikely to survive as a species if there is an almost complete loss of summer sea ice cover, which is projected to occur before the end of this century by some climate models.
- some arctic fisheries will disappear;
- new health hazards for both animals and humans are set to appear as the climate warms.
- a warmer climate is also likely to see more forest fires and storm damage to coastal communities in the Arctic;
- glaciers, sea ice and tundra will melt, contributing to global sea level rise. By the end of the century, sea levels could rise by nearly one meter. A warmer Arctic will contribute up to 15 per cent of this rise. Today there are 17 million people living less than one meter above sea level in Bangladesh, while places like Florida and Louisiana in the US, Bangkok, Calcutta, Dhaka and Manila are also are risk from sea level rise;
- the area of the Greenland Ice Sheet that experiences some melting has increased by about 16 per cent from 1979 to 2002. The area of melting in 2002 broke all previous records. Global warming could eventually lead to a complete melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, and a resulting sea-level rise globally of seven meters although this will take several hundred years;
- a melting Arctic will also accelerate the rate of global climate change. As arctic snow and ice melt, the ability of the Arctic to reflect heat back to space is reduced, accelerating the overall rate of global warming;
- a warmer Arctic could possibly halt the Gulf Stream, which brings warmer water and weather to north-western Europe;
"Polar bears are walking on thin ice," added Nicola Saltman
"If we can secure their future by cutting carbon dioxide emissions, we can secure the future of thousands of other species around the world."