The Arctic, with its unique and vulnerable ecosystem, is particularly sensitive to rising global temperatures. Limiting the consequences of climate change has been a focal point of the Nordic countries’ work in the Arctic for decades. Now the Nordics have taken the lead, and are urging other countries to step up their climate efforts - before it is too late.

It is well known that the effects of climate change have hit the Arctic harder than any other part of the world. The Arctic is warming at a rate of almost double the global average, and the effects are clearly visible in communities all around the region.

This is an issue of great concern for us in the Nordic countries, living next to or even in the Arctic. We see the effects at close range and are convinced that there is no time to lose. It is high time for the international community to take decisive action to bring the climate crisis to a halt.

The Nordic prime ministers have already shown the way by signing a declaration in January 2019, stating their unwavering commitment to achieving carbon-neutrality in the five Nordic states. Furthermore, they also urge other nations to step up their ambitions in order to reach the Paris Agreement.The Nordic countries are determined to lead the transition to carbon-neutral societies and have set some of the world’s most ambitious climate objectives.

The Greenland ice sheet has been shrinking since 2002, when satellite-based measurement began
The Greenland ice sheet has been shrinking since 2002, when satellite-based measurement began
Image: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Listen to the indigenous people

We see today clear signs that the warming climate is significantly affecting the Arctic ecosystems, as well as the traditional livelihoods of its indigenous peoples. In 2018, the local fishermen and hunters of the Natural Resource Council of Attu in Greenland were awarded the Nordic Council Environment Prize for their observations of the natural environment and the state of the living resources in the area.

The fishermen and hunters have observed that marine species are moving north due to warmer waters. Another essential observation is that the sea ice on which they travel for hunting and fishing is now passable for only three to four weeks a year, while previously the ice was solid for five or six months.

We should listen carefully to them; their observations are based on fishing and hunting traditions that are several hundred years old.

Fragile balance

The challenge of creating economic growth in the Arctic without endangering the region’s ecosystems, the livelihood of the indigenous people and local communities is a key element in the debate about future development in the region.

One of the most pressing issues is to address the growth in international shipping and cruise tourism, which brings with it not only tourists and business opportunities but also pressing environmental concerns.

For example, cruise ships that arrive in Greenland this year carry up to 3,200 people each and burn an estimated 150-200 tonnes of heavy fuel oil (HFO) per day, causing massive air pollution in the area. The soot significantly contributes to the darkening of the ice sheet, which increases surface warming and causes the ice to melt at faster rates.

Due to this climate effect and the environmental hazards related to HFO, all Nordic countries, and the government of Greenland, have supported the initial steps taken by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to ban the use of HFO as a ship fuel in the Arctic.

It is also worth mentioning that in 2015 the World Economic Forum published an Arctic Investment Protocol containing guidelines for responsible investment in the region. The protocol is now an important tool to make sure that economic development and investments in the Arctic are made in a sustainable way and benefit the indigenous peoples and local communities.

International effort needed

In our attempts to create a more sustainable future for the Arctic, an urgent, collective, international political effort is needed. While the full extremity of future developments is still uncertain, we can without doubt say that the current path for the Arctic is bleak – not only for the region, but for global climate mitigation efforts. Regionally, we must take a precautionary approach and base all decisions on respect for the fragile Arctic environment - and we must use existing scientific knowledge and data as the bases for making decisions and policies.

We need all countries to join in the efforts. Discussing the Arctic specifically should therefore be on the agenda at the COP25 climate summit in Santiago later this year.

The Nordic Arctic Co-operation Programme 2018-2021 by the Nordic Council of Ministers finances a broad portfolio of projects promoting sustainable development in the Arctic. Read more about the projects here