Nature and Biodiversity

We set up an Arctic basecamp at Davos 2017. Here are 5 reasons why

A ship travels on the Isfjorden near Longyearbyen on the Norwegian Svalbard islands, June 1, 2012. The Svalbard archipelago on Europe's northern edge is probably the remotest and wildest place in the Arctic with regularly scheduled flights, so get there quick before the crowds discover its crystal clear waters, glaciers and wildlife. Picture taken June 1, 2012. To match story TRAVEL-SVALBARD/      REUTERS/Balazs Koranyi (NORWAY - Tags: TRAVEL SOCIETY) - RTR3544O

The risks from Arctic change remain invisible to the world’s most powerful decision-makers. This needs to change. Image: REUTERS/Balazs Koranyi

Gail Whiteman, Jeremy Wilkinson and Konrad Steffen
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

Camping in -24C temperatures is not the typical way to meet former US Vice Presidents. Yet that’s exactly what happened at this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. On 18 January, of group of leading scientists set up an Arctic Basecamp at Davos and hosted a VIP Arctic science briefing. As co-organizers of this event, we were delighted to have over 80 VIP participants, as well as keynote speeches from Al Gore, former US Vice President and Chair of the Climate Reality Project and Christiana Figueres, former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The Arctic Basecamp at Davos meeting had four key objectives: to present state-of-the-art research showing the dramatic changes occurring in the Arctic, to explain how these changes impact Arctic and non-Arctic countries alike; to outline the global economic risks related to Arctic change; and to present a call to action to world leaders and top decision-makers at Davos.


None of us had previously been to Forum's meeting at Davos, but we certainly look forward to going back - and not just for the winter camping. The Forum's Annual Meeting engages the foremost political, business and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas. There’s no better place to discuss global risks and to kick-start global solutions.

Scientific evidence on Arctic change is unequivocal and it is sending us a warning cry that has profound consequences and global risks. Yet the risks from Arctic change remain invisible to the world’s most powerful decision-makers. We wanted to change that.

Our message to the world’s most powerful global audience was to convey that long-term negative changes in the Arctic pose serious socio-economic risks to the rest of the world. The Arctic is the bellwether for the world’s climate, and Arctic scientists have clear evidence that:

1. Climate change is real; it is happening now and humans are largely responsible.

2. The Arctic and high mountain regions are undergoing dramatic changes related to global warming. Long-term measurements clearly demonstrate that the Arctic is warming at a rate over twice the global average. Extreme events are becoming more common in some regions of the Arctic.

3. Long-term scientific measurements clearly demonstrate that the Arctic is warming at a rate over twice the global average. This has increased the melt rate of Arctic glaciers and ice sheets which contributes to global sea level rise and other broader climate consequences. Changes in snow and ice also have large impacts on mountainous nations like Switzerland.

4. The repercussions of Arctic change carry profound global risks for the world’s societies, economies and industry sectors such as agriculture, insurance, infrastructure and shipping.

5. Arctic change requires urgent action from world leaders and top decision-makers, and underscores the need to raise global ambitions by 2018 in line with the Paris Agreement (bearing in mind that a 2°C rise globally would mean up to 5°C increase across the Arctic).


Business leaders like Peter Bakker, President and CEO of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, were fast to understand that Arctic change is an emerging business risk for many sectors. “It’s not just about the ice melting. This will change weather patterns around the world, making food production around the world unpredictable.”

Hard choices need to be made. These must be evidence-based and not ideologically driven. Business leaders like Peter Bakker, agreed: “Science brings facts. When business has facts it will act.”


We know that science has important answers in assessing the global risks associated with the Arctic ice melt and we made this as visible as possible in Davos. The Arctic Basecamp at Davos called for action from global leaders to apply this year’s Davos theme, Responsive and Responsible Leadership, to address global risks from Arctic change.

Christiana Figueres, former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said: "We’re seeing signs from the Arctic that climate-change is progressing extremely quickly, even with just 1°C degree of warming. Such incontrovertible evidence of our planet’s distress cannot be ignored and the impacts to the global economy, to food production and civil stability are growing. However, a climate-safe world, where nature thrives and opportunities for all are abundant is still within our line of sight. Actions to arrest global warming pollution are increasing at great pace all around the world. The shift to a low-carbon economy is now unstoppable, but can it be done in a timely fashion? Let us harness that collective consciousness and use it to raise ambition, increase the speed and scale of the transition and deliver a turning point in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020."


Stefan Flückiger, the Swiss Ambassador and Head of the Sectoral Foreign Policies Division, closed the meeting with the hope for an Arctic Basecamp at Davos in 2018. Ultimately, what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay there. Let’s hope that what happened to the Arctic at Davos doesn’t stay at Davos.

he Arctic Basecamp at Davos 2017 was the result of collaboration between Lancaster University, British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest Snow and Landscape Research (WSL). Find out more in the programme and livestream.

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