The Arctic is still a cold place, but it is warming faster than any other region on Earth. Over the past 50 years, the Arctic’s temperature has risen by more than twice the global average. In 2016, the annual mean temperature in Svalbard was 6 degrees higher than normal – so we are already witnessing actual consequences of global warming to Arctic life. These rapid changes have consequences well beyond the Arctic.
What Arctic change does to the world
Once Arctic warming gets going, it has two important dynamics with unpredictable effects.
- As the Arctic warms and sea-ice and snow-cover retracts, this weakens surface reflectivity. The bare ground and open water absorb more heat from the sun and amplify warming further. This feedback is an important reason why the Arctic warms at twice the rate of the global average.
- The Arctic permafrost is a storehouse for trapped greenhouse-gases such as methane and CO2. When the permafrost is thawing, these greenhouse-gases could be released to the atmosphere, amplifying global warming further. These secondary effects are adding unpredictability. Unpredictability in terms of consequences – but also unpredictability in terms of the pace of climate change. As we know, unpredictability means enhanced risks.
Arctic warming is accelerating
A new scientific assessment of climate change in the Arctic, by the Arctic Council’s Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), concludes that the Arctic is now shifting — rapidly and in unexpected ways — into a new state.
If we allow current trends to continue, they will have profound and accelerated impacts on ecosystems, human health and safety, industries and economies around the world. Certainly, this will also influence our security environment. Recent research indicates that this could increase risk levels not only in the Arctic, but in regions very far from the Arctic areas. This is due to the climate system – It is highly interconnected on the global scale. The Arctic region acts as a global cooling system by drawing warm ocean water from the south and cooling it down. This movement of warmer ocean waters to the north has a major influence on climate outside the Arctic; it accounts for northern Europe’s relatively mild climate, and it keeps the Tropics cooler than they would otherwise be.
The rapid melting of Arctic ice and snow is likely to weaken this global cooling system, amplifying global warming, and intensifying its consequences throughout the world.
Artic warming will amplify security risks
So while global warming is a multiplier of existing security risks and threats, the Arctic is an amplifier of global warming. Indirectly, a warmer Arctic will indeed also amplify security risks worldwide. We are seeing, and will see ever more extreme weather events. We are seeing more stress on critical ecosystems, including oceans, freshwater, and biodiversity. These changes, in turn, will have direct and indirect social, economic, political, and security effects.
Extreme weather can trigger crop failures, wildfires, energy blackouts, infrastructure breakdown, supply-chain breakdowns, migration, and infectious disease outbreaks. We can expect climate change to exacerbate current conditions: making hot, dry places hotter and drier, for example. Over the longer term, global climate change will change how and where people live, where they can produce food, as well as the diseases they face.
Science is increasingly concerned that more sudden, dramatic shifts could be possible. Such shifts in the climate or climate-linked ecosystems could have dramatic economic and ecological consequences.
Accelerated climate change
Accelerated climate change, therefore, is not only a significant risk factor in its own right – it is a factor that can interplay with and magnify other risk factors: economic, technological and demographic.
- Economic risk – The globalised economy, the risks to free trade and the global economy are real.
The physical risks that arise from the increased frequency and severity of climate- and weather-related events that damage property and disrupt trade. The liability risks – the risks posed to companies business models by climate change. The transition risks which could result from the adjustment towards a lower-carbon economy. Changes in policy, technology and physical risks could prompt a reassessment of the value of a large range of assets. Just as we can have climate shocks and technological disruptions, we may also have “policy shocks” in response to dramatic climate events.
- Technology induced risks – Combatting climate change will require faster technological change.
Technology is accelerating the pace of change around us, and in the process it is triggering new complex challenges, disruptions and tensions.
- Demographic risks – Risks associated with demographic shifts.
Urbanization is a welcome trend in terms of more climate friendly living with regard to housing, transport systems and other public infrastructure. At the same time, with more extreme weather events, rising sea levels and pressure on critical infrastructure, urban centres are increasingly vulnerable.
Climate action is of high strategic importance
Climate change is a security challenge, and hence climate policy is of high strategic importance. The work in the GREBE project workpackage 4 is a small contribution to the strategic work on climate policy and security challenges – with a practical focus on business strategy models.
Climate policy matters!