In Reykjavik: Arctic Conference Sounds Climate Alarm
October 13, 2013
While in Reykjavik last week, we heard that a newly organized Arctic Circle Conference, meant to be an ongoing annual event for those with territory or interests in the Arctic, was going to meet shortly after our Earth 101 conference.
Speakers included Al Gore, Hilary Clinton, and Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski. Here’s the update.
REYKJAVIK, Iceland — As the inaugural Arctic Circle conference got officially underway here Saturday, a specter loomed over the proceedings. The conference, which brings together policymakers, business leaders, researchers from across the world to discuss issues important to the Arctic, convened with messages from dignitaries of Iceland, Greenland, the United States, United Nations, Canada and Russia, and all of them shared a concern — the outsized impact of climate change in the Arctic and what it means for far northern populations going forward.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, speaking in a video message, called climate change “the greatest long-term threat to our survival.” Moments later, Greenland Premier Aleqa Hammond said her country “strongly support(s)” the UN’s stance on climate change. One by one, officials from various Arctic countries — including Alaska’s U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski — asserted their concerns over melting sea ice, ocean acidification and the possibility of methane release that could exponentially increase the rate of global warming.
“You can’t afford being a climate skeptic, living in the Arctic,” said Johan von de Gronden, chief executive of the World Wildlife Fund in the Netherlands.
And though much was said, and the agreement was largely unanimous that humans must act to attempt to mitigate the effects of climate change, there were few solutions. Some talked of switching to a low-carbon economy, abandoning fossil fuels and utilizing more renewable resources.
Iceland is an appropriate place to beat that drum. The island nation of about 315,000 people gets the majority of its energy from hydroelectric and geothermal sources, and continues to strive for complete energy independence. But for other countries who are still heavily dependent on oil and gas — including Arctic heavyweights Russia, Canada and the U.S. — making such a transition would be difficult, to say the least.
And Russia is actually doing the opposite. Russian Arctic ambassador Anton Vasiliev said that his country is “planning to produce the first oil in the ice-covered Arctic offshore next month.”
“Mitigation and adaptation” were another common theme, suggested as the methods for Arctic peoples to deal with the seeming inevitability of the effects of global warming in the Arctic, where such changes are taking place at roughly twice the rate of the rest of the globe.
For some, adaptation could mean moving — the term “climate refugees” was brought up more than once, referring to both animals and humans. The massive autumn walrus haulout that’s been taking place at Point Lay, Alaska, almost every year since 2007 was pointed to as one example. Some speculate that a lack of sea ice in the Chukchi Sea could be to blame.
Meanwhile, also in Alaska, the village of Kivalina is often cited as a community that will likely have to relocate due to the ongoing effects of climate change, including intensified coastal erosion caused by longer periods of open water off the coastline.