World Climate Change Conference
29 September ? 3 October 2003
Draft statement on behalf of the Chairman of Senior Arctic Officials,
delivered by H.E. Ambassador Benedikt Jónsson
Allow me, on behalf of the Chair of Senior Arctic Officials, my colleague from Iceland, Ambassador Pálsson, to thank the host of the World Climate Change Conference for this opportunity to present to the Conference some aspects of the work of the Arctic Council, mainly as concerns climate change.
With your permission I would like to begin by saying a few words about the Arctic Council and the nature of its work. The Arctic Council, is a circumpolar forum for promoting sustainable development in the Arctic region. Eight states share this vast region and co-operate in the Arctic Council to protect the environment, including air, land and sea, to promote Arctic economies in a sustainable manner and address social and cultural issues of relevance to Arctic residents.
In a unique way, the Arctic Council consists of the representatives of eight national governments, representatives of six indigenous peoples organizations, several regional authorities, scientific experts and civil society. It is the only truly circumpolar voice of the North in the international community at a time when the environment and climate change are moving up the global agenda.
Climate variability and change, and more recently notable increases in UV radiation, are of growing concern for the people of the Arctic and for the world at large. They have also been brought to the forefront in the work of the Arctic Council.
In an effort to strengthen the scientific knowledge of climate change in the Arctic and to suggest ways of dealing with it, the Arctic states have launched, under the lead of the United States and in co-operation with the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC), the so-called Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA). The ACIA was (will be) introduced in detail at this conference by the project coordinator, Dr. Robert W. Corell.
This assessment will be the first comprehensive regionally based study of climate change to be published since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Its goal is to evaluate and synthesize knowledge on climate variability and change and its consequences and provide useful and reliable information to governments, the international community and the people of the Arctic region and support policy-making processes. The results of the assessment should be completed by the autumn of 2004.
The scientific part of the ACIA will, among other things, analyze past and current climate and UV changes, as well as future projections. It will look into physical and biological systems and their responses to changes across the Arctic region and its impacts on residents. The assessment will also identify existing gaps in our knowledge of climate change.
In addition, the ACIA will examine the social and economic impacts of climate change and its consequences for human health in the Arctic and recommend appropriate policy responses. Policy recommendations will include items such as partnership, mitigation, adaptation, research, observation and modeling, as well as communications and education.
The sometimes daunting implications of climate change for the people of the Arctic region have begun to emerge. Some preliminary key findings of the ACIA reveal, for example, that the sea level will rise. This will in turn affect coastal communities, islands, river deltas and harbors.
Sea ice reduction is one of many consequences of a warmer climate. This will affect climate feedbacks, species relocation and in turn subsistence lifestyle and human health. Changes will also take place in permafrost, which in turn will have various effects on infrastructure, such as roads, airports, buildings and pipelines. Many of these changes are already apparent here in Russia.
Furthermore, changes in the hydrological cycle may impact variables like riverflow, leading, in certain cases, to higher floods and more severe droughts. This development could seriously affect economic sectors, including the energy sector.
Nevertheless, care must be taken not to speak of climate change and its possible impacts exclusively in such negative terms. Reduction in sea ice could, for example, open up entirely new possibilities in terms of circumpolar maritime transport and communications, bringing economic potential and environmental challenges. Efforts must be made to ensure that the pursuit of such possibilities take full account of the sensitive nature of the North.
Assessment of climate change in the Arctic is highly relevant for other parts of the world and contributes to a common understanding of global climate change. It is important to note that the Arctic, as the place where rapid and amplified warming is expected to occur, can act as an early warning of global climate change.
Therefore, it is important to ensure the integration of the ACIA with ongoing assessments and related activities with an Arctic focus. The Arctic Council favors closer co-operation with international organization on issues related to climate change, including the European Union (EU), the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as well as with non-arctic states.
The International Polar Year 2007-2008 should also provide a valuable opportunity to promote polar issues and bring together allies in science and research related to climate change. An international programme of co-ordinated research to explore the polar regions would give a welcome boost to research in the polar areas and might also be an incentive for innovation and improved efficiency. International co-operation of this kind would also contribute to harmonizing research and enhance people's knowledge of the polar regions.
The Arctic region is by nature highly variable. Many of its resources are cyclical and highly unpredictable. Its weather, as we know, is changeable and inconsistent. Adapting our way of life to ongoing and future changes in climate is therefore a new challenge we must address with the same spirit that has allowed us to preserve and build thriving communities in the sometimes unforgiving circumstances of the Arctic region.
We cannot afford to be passive and wait and see what happens. We must improve our ability to learn from past experiences and summon our creative resources in designing appropriate response strategies. We need to assess our strengths and weaknesses and monitor the change as it happens. The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment will provide us an essential instrument for meeting that challenge.