Energy & Environment

UN report finds temperature rise is ‘locked in’ for Arctic


The Arctic is now “locked in” to experiencing unnatural levels of temperature rise by as early as 2050, according to a new United Nations environmental report out Wednesday.

Dramatic temperature increases in the globe’s northernmost region, which is typically covered by permafrost, is unavoidable, according to the report released at the United Nations Environment Assembly.

Even if countries were to meet the original goals of the Paris climate agreement, it would do nothing to stop Arctic winter temperatures from increasing 3 to 5 degrees Celsius by 2050 and 5 to 9 degrees Celsius by 2080, according to the report.

The resulting sea level rises worldwide would be devastating.

The report also warned that the rapid thawing of permafrost in the region could likely accelerate the effects of climate change, which could completely negate any long-term international pacts and goals to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius compared to 1986-2005 levels.

The report comes the same day that the U.N. released its sixth Global Environment Outlook, which is intended to help policymakers worldwide assess the state of the planet and layout environmental goals. The outlook issued a blunt warning about the effects of human activity on the Earth, projecting that air pollution and other environmental consequences could lead to the premature deaths of millions of people over the next few decades.

Last fall the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report that warned of irreversible damage to the globe if temperature increases were not limited to 2 degrees of warming. The report found that the U.S. had 12 years to act to remediate the effects of global warming.

Wednesday’s report indicates the timeline could be even shorter.

“What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic,” said Joyce Msuya, U.N. Environment Programme’s acting executive director, in a statement. “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.”

To put the study’s findings into perspective, even if global emissions were to completely stop overnight, winter temperatures in the arctic would still increase between 4 to 5 degrees Celsius by 2100 compared to the late 20th century’s temperatures, the study found.

The reason for the continued warming lies in the temperature-locking nature of greenhouse gas emissions already in the atmosphere and ocean heat storage.

That means, even if all countries were to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement — which the U.S. has vowed to pull out of — permafrost in the Arctic is still anticipated to shrink by 45 percent from today’s levels.

The thawing will create an avalanche effect. As permafrost melts, it’s expected to release trapped carbon and methane into the atmosphere, resulting in more thawing — an effect known as “positive feedback.”

Other issues poised to hurt Arctic melting include ocean acidification and plastic pollution.

The report says the effects will first be felt by indigenous populations living in Arctic communities. Four million people and nearly 70 percent of today’s Arctic infrastructure will be affected by thawing permafrost by 2050, the report found.

“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 Kimmo Tiilikainen, the Finnish minister of the environment, energy and housing, 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.”

Tags Arctic celsius melting paris climate accord Permafrost temperature rise thawing

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