Our Common Future: The Arctic in Global Perspectives

A Tribute Lecture to Dr. Louwrens Hacquebord

Dr. Robert W. Corell, Senior Faculty Fellow, Florida International University and Professor II at the University of the Arctic Principal, Global Environment and Technology Foundation

The Arctic region is changing and the changes are accelerating at rates and levels of change that has not been experienced by modern humankind or humankinds ancestors for at least 800,000 years and quite possible for millions of years. The peoples of the Arctic are facing accelerating challenges first because these changes are not only outside of historical levels of experience, and second at levels beyond human experience. For many years, the Arctic has been a wilderness detached from mainstream societies. However, over the most recent decades, that image has taken on new dimensions. While the wilderness remains a prominent part of it, the Arctic and its peoples are experiencing tangible realities from climate change, melting ice, increased industrial activities and the possible development of the region’s rich natural resources.

The Arctic is warming 2-3 times as rapidly as the Earth as a whole. This amplification is a result of both natural feedback processes (e.g., snow- and ice-albedo feedback) and human activities contributing directly to warming in the region, all underpinned by the on-going changes in the climate system that are being primarily caused by emissions of carbon dioxide and other long-lived greenhouse gases. The amplified warming of the Arctic is already having significant impacts on the environment and indigenous peoples of the region, as well as amplifying the changes and impacts outside the region, including affecting weather in the mid-latitudes and contributing to sea level rise around the planet.

These developments have significantly changed how the Arctic is viewed, for example, the Arctic Ocean is fast becoming an open sea, likely to be open with a few decades every summer for a few months every year to shipping and other maritime operations. Cruise ships are now entering Arctic waters. New commercial shipping routes are being actively tested. As the Arctic waters warm up, the current fishing stocks are changing their migration patterns, while southern fish populations are starting to venture northward. The fishing industry is moving further north than ever before. The rich natural resources of the Arctic are becoming accessible. Mines are opening up; the potential for rare earth metals is being scrutinized and assessed. Oil and gas deposits are being explored and developed. The melting of the sea ice and of the Greenland ice cap will have global impacts, and will influence the planetary climate system in several ways, among these being rising sea levels and the decreasing reflection of solar radiation, hence accelerating the warming of the Arctic region and entire planet. Climate change is influencing the livelihood of northern peoples in both positive and negative ways. These changes, and the new development opportunities they have created, have turned the Arctic into an increasingly important region in political terms. In summary, the consequences of interactions and feedbacks between regions of the Northern hemisphere and the Arctic on climate change, ecosystems, human health, economic and resource development and societies have the potential to substantively effect the eight Arctic countries, as well as much of Europe, North America and the rest of the plane.


Willem Barentsz Poolinstituut

Bundeling van kennis, onderzoek en onderwijs over de Noord- en de Zuidpool

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