Climate and Research in the Arctic - the Need for International Cooperation

Arctic Circle 2015, Reykjavik, 18 October

State Secretary Tore Hattrem held this speech at the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik 18 October.

Check against delivery

  • Excellencies
  • Ladies and gentlemen, friends of the Arctic
  • Let me first thank President Grímsson for organising this impressive Arctic gathering.
  • Over the last year, Norway has stepped up its climate diplomacy. COP 21 Chairman, Laurent Fabius, visited Svalbard last year. In March this year we arranged a seminar in Paris, together with our French friends, which looked more closely at the global ramifications of climate change in the Arctic. In July this year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited Svalbard to witness first-hand the alarming pace of climate change taking place in the Arctic region.
  • At the Glacier conference in Alaska in August, the discussions were continued. And I am therefore pleased to see that several sessions of this year's Arctic Circle Assembly focus on what is one of the most pressing issues of our time.

Arctic climate change

  • The impacts of climate change are particularly visible in the Arctic.
  • Temperatures are rising everywhere. But over the last 100 years, temperatures in the Arctic have been rising twice as fast as the global average.
  • Over the last two decades, the Arctic ice sheets have been losing mass. Alaska and northern Canada have seen some of the greatest losses of glacier mass over the past decade, but the Norwegian Polar Institute's long observations series from Svalbard show a similar tendency.
  • The glaciers are receding. Almost all glaciers worldwide have continued to shrink (according to the IPCC's 5th Assessment Report).
  • The Arctic summer sea ice is disappearing. In September 2012, the extent of the Arctic sea ice was at a record low.
  • We have lost 50 % of the ice coverage in the Barents Sea since 1980. The Arctic summer ice cap could vanish completely by 2050, and so the Arctic Ocean will probably become virtually ice-free in this century.
  • The changes are threatening the species living in the Arctic, most notably the polar bears.

Global threats from Arctic Climate Change

  • We are facing enormous changes and challenges – in the Arctic and globally.
  • We know that the changes taking place in the Arctic will not be confined to the Arctic.
  • Arctic climate change has worldwide implications, and the global effects of the climate change taking place in the Arctic are serious. As the Arctic warms, monsoon weather patterns are expected to change. The melting of polar ice will cause rising sea levels globally and accelerate global warming.
  • The melting of Arctic snow and ice is not only a threat to traditional livelihoods and polar bears.
  • The Arctic is an important cooling system for the northern hemisphere, and its ice caps, if melted, would result in a sea-level rise of 7 metres.
  • Arctic permafrost also holds vast amounts of carbon, which will be released if the permafrost thaws.
  • Arctic warming amplifies global warming, and aggravates one of the gravest challenges of our time. The livelihoods, wellbeing and safety of hundreds of millions of people are at risk.
  • If we stay on today's course, food production in highly populated areas of North Africa and Latin America could be halved by 2020. Africa and the Middle East could experience increased droughts that would undermine food security. And South Asia and small island states are likely to be hard hit by rising sea levels and extreme weather events.
  • Climate disruption will increasingly be a driver of movements of populations and a cause of violent conflicts. Hence, climate change is also a security policy concern.
  • In the long term, the fate of the Arctic environment – and the pace of global climate change – depends on our collective efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The changes we see in the Arctic are therefore a powerful warning to all of us. They are a call to action: They should give momentum to the international negotiations, spur the COP21 process forward, and provide an incentive for reaching a strong agreement at the Paris meeting later this year.
  • If we succeed, this could be the most important agreement of our time. The time to act is now.

Commitments and the way forward

  • Many nations have made impressive nationally-determined commitments prior to the Paris meeting, which will contribute to reducing global emissions of greenhouse gases.
  • However, the reality remains unchanged: It seems clear already now that the sum of our national commitments will not be sufficient to stay within the two-degree target.
  • This underlines the need for strong provisions in the Paris agreement so that we repeatedly strengthen our commitments over time.

Short-lived climate forcers

  • Achieving sufficient and sustained reductions in CO2 emissions remains our most important task if we are to curb global warming.
  • In the short and medium term, however, effective and coordinated efforts to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants are essential if we are to limit Arctic and global warming.
  • Black carbon deposited on snow and ice triggers melting and amplifies Arctic warming.
  • We need more global cooperation and more regional cooperation to reduce black carbon and methane emissions.
  • In April, the Arctic Council member states adopted a framework to reduce emissions from methane and soot. This a good example of action that we can take regionally.

Research and responsible action

  • As the ice retreats, the Arctic countries will no longer be divided by ice. Instead, they will be more closely connected by the ocean. This could have some positive effects in the short term.
  • The Arctic region is of vital importance to Norway:
  • 80 % of our maritime areas are north of the Arctic Circle.
  • Almost 90 % of our export revenues come from sea-based economic activities and resources.
  • We have always been a nation of seafarers and fishermen.
  • The Arctic waters are our natural home.
  • This is why we seek to promote robust regional development, based on knowledge and innovation.
  • This is why we promote responsible resource management, based on an ecosystem- and science-based approach, including integrated management plans for our sea areas.
  • We manage vulnerable areas carefully.
  • We give high priority to research on the impacts of climate change on living resources.
  • At the same time, all our management schemes are being fundamentally challenged by climate change.
  • It is vital that we have up-to-date knowledge about the Arctic.
  • In order to better understand how sea ice behaves in the Arctic, the Norwegian Polar Institute initiated the N-ICE 2015 cruise project.
  • Inspired by Fridtjof Nansen's famous expedition with the vessel Fram in 1893–96, scientists on board the research vessel Lance embarked on a six-month study in the Arctic Ocean to closely monitor sea ice over its entire seasonal life cycle: from when the new ice forms in winter until it melts in early summer.
  • The Director of the Norwegian Polar Institute, as well as the cruise leader and some of the researchers, will tell us more about this exciting project later today, giving us state-of-the-art knowledge about the Arctic ice and Arctic Ocean.

Arctic research and cooperation

  • For Norway, the High North is not just at the top of the world; it is also at the top of our list of foreign policy priorities.
  • Cooperation in the Arctic Council is an essential element of our efforts in the region.
  • The Arctic Council's comprehensive reports and studies have been of major importance.
  • They have proven beyond doubt that climate change is taking place rapidly in the Arctic, with serious and far-reaching consequences.
  • Their conclusions have been confirmed by the latest findings of the IPCC.
  • Extensive international research cooperation is needed in order to address future challenges relating to climate change and the environment.
  • The Arctic region has always been a stronghold of traditional knowledge, and it is important to maintain a close dialogue with the region's indigenous peoples.We want to build on existing experience and capabilities when developing scientific institutions and cooperation.We have a strong interest in carrying out research in the polar regions.

The Antarctica

  • We need to know more about the effects of climate change in Antarctica, too.
  • And Norway has a research station in Antarctica that is manned all year round.Our research in the two polar regions is mutually reinforcing.

Research on Svalbard

  • For decades, scientists from around the world have conducted research on the Svalbard archipelago.
  • Svalbard is a truly international research hub, with a high number of research institutions and scientists from many countries.
  • Institutions from 13 countries have permanent research stations in Svalbard. More than 700 scientists from 30 nations were active in Svalbard and adjacent waters in 2013.
  • Favourable natural conditions, easy accessibility and well-developed infrastructure and logistics make Svalbard a highly attractive platform for research cooperation in the Arctic.
  • To further develop Svalbard as a platform for international research cooperation, the Norwegian Government intends to strengthen coordination and the sharing of infrastructure and data.
  • Coordinated efforts will also lessen the human footprint in this vulnerable polar environment.

Conclusion

To sum up:

  • Firstly: The Arctic is a barometer of global climate change. And the changes taking place in the Arctic are a call to action.
  • Secondly: They should spur the COP21 process forward, and provide an incentive for a strong agreement at the Climate Change Conference in Paris in December.
  • Thirdly: We need to strengthen our cooperation in the Arctic as well as globally.
  • Thank you.