Arctic Tipping Points Can Ripple Around the World

Recently, I was invited to Anchorage, Alaska, by the U.S. State Department to join Barack Obama, John Kerry and other world leaders to discuss Arctic resilience in the context of rising impacts from climate change.

The Arctic is one of the last remaining wildernesses. The unforgiving conditions ensure it remains sparsely populated. As a result, some of the most dramatic changes on the planet are occurring far from view. Here communities, from the Alaskan Yupik to the Greenland Inuit native tribes, have developed and adapted resilient societies for millennia. But now the Arctic is changing faster than ever before in modern history, as a result of human-caused climate change and ecosystem degradation. More worryingly, we are seeing the first signs that the Arctic is approaching tipping points that, like toppling dominos, are likely to lead to a cascade of events that will affect us all.

Without dramatic reductions in greenhouse gases, by the end of the century much of the Arctic is predicted to be more than five degrees warmer than today, and in places nine or 10 degrees. There will be no sea ice in the summer months leading to other abrupt, potentially irreversible, ecological and physical changes — sea ice this summer has already dropped well below the long-term average. The Arctic Ocean will become more acidic, corroding anything with a shell. The stability of the Greenland ice sheet — which contains enough water to raise sea levels globally by at least six meters — will be in doubt. The so-called Atlantic thermohaline circulation, including the Gulf Stream and its warm waters that ensure a mild northern-European climate, is in jeopardy. And the melting permafrost is already buckling buildings, roads and pipelines and may lead to a large release of methane, a gas more than 20 times as potent —> Read More