Canadians pride themselves on a love for the Great White North—with the Arctic making up more than 40 percent of Canada's landmass. However, as scientists take a temperature check of the Arctic, the resounding evidence shows we’re not moving fast enough on transitioning to a low-carbon economy.
As this year’s host of the G7 Summit, Canada has set out aims to work with its fellow G7 states on the major themes of climate change, oceans and clean energy. But recent activity highlights one critical question: has Canada lost touch with its Arctic roots?
The announcement last week by the Canadian government to buy the Kinder Morgan pipeline suggests the answer might be “yes,” given the project’s main objective is to transport oil from the Canadian tar sands to the west coast for export. To support a controversial pipeline that creates significant emissions invites more than just disbelief when we look at the stark messages coming from the Arctic. This decision also flies in the face of the opportunities inherent in the clean-energy economy, which is exponentially growing while the fossil-fuel market is irreversibly shrinking.
Scientific research published in the journal Science shows a strong link between the loss of Arctic sea ice and an increase in global CO2 emissions. Our Arctic ice is in rapid decline: 11 of the lowest masses of summer sea ice have all occurred in the past 11 years. Scientists have been monitoring the Arctic region for decades and the data conclusively shows a long-term, significant warming trend. In fact, the Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of the rest of the globe.
Currently, the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) indicates that the Arctic has already experienced record-breaking warm temperatures throughout 2018. That’s a warning cry to the global community and one that scientists are calling on political leaders to pay attention to.
That is why this week Arctic national science stations are releasing weather balloons to coincide with Canada’s G7 Summit in Charlevoix. The #2020dontbelate message emblazoned on them is one that should be one heard around the world.
To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to bend the curve of carbon emissions by 2020, to make the transition to a low carbon economy financially feasible and to stay within the temperature goals outlined in the Paris Agreement.
The changing Arctic is a barometer for global risk. As the Arctic changes, it will affect climate, precipitation and weather patterns throughout the rest of the world. That means increased pressure on food and water security and increased amounts of extreme weather in mid-latitude regions, including North America and Europe.
Former U.N. Climate Chief Christiana Figueres—responsible for leading the landmark Paris Agreement—reminds us how this Arctic melt hits home:
"The evidence is clear—we have an acute need for speed on climate action. There is no more room in our atmosphere for carbon pollution. Now is our moment to pull the clean energy future into the present by taking advantage of the technology and price shifts in renewables and harnessing the momentum towards a fossil-free future already happening in cities, states and businesses around the world."
This call to action is further supported by the international science community, as reflected by Professor Johan Rockström, Co-chair of Future Earth and incoming Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research:
"We have just passed 1C global warming, the hottest temperature since the last Ice Age, and can already feel the heat in terms of extreme weather, melting ice, water disruptions and ecosystem shifts. It is critical to recognize that 2C global warming, means 5C warming in the Arctic. The Artic is a critical ecosystem regulating the state of the planet, and thus, the state of the world."
Canada is a country that knows a lot about snow and ice, with Canadian Arctic science considered world-class. So, why isn’t the chilling message reaching decision-makers? Adrian Schimnowski, CEO of the Arctic Research Foundation, reminds us what is at stake if we ignore the signs of the Arctic: “If we fail to acknowledge the consequences; if we fail to transform the culture of leadership away from short term returns, then we fail our Earth, our future, our children and ourselves.”
The amount of CO2 we put into the atmosphere over the next few years is of critical, make-it-or-break-it importance. In Charlevoix, G7 leaders should set science-based targets to objectively guide global, collective action. This means that countries—including Canada—need to ratchet up their sustainability targets in 2018 in order to give us a chance for a carbon-neutral future.
Fundamental transformations from a warmer Arctic poses serious risks for the world. Arctic science is robust, evidence-based and objective. It’s time for leaders to listen to these risks and seize this opportunity to collaborate and act boldly on climate change for the benefit of all their citizens.