Thursday, May 5, 2011

Alarming New Study from the Arctic Council

The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) of the Arctic Council has released a troubling new assessment titled "Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic" (SWIPA), the Executive Summary of which is available here. The report depicts a regional ecosystem in rapid decline due to global warming: "The observed changes in sea ice on the Arctic Ocean and in the mass of the Greenland Ice Sheet and Arctic ice caps and glaciers over the past ten years are dramatic and represent an obvious departure from the long-term patterns" (p. i). "Key findings" include record warm temperatures, accelerating feedback mechanisms, decreasing snow cover and sea ice, thawing permafrost, melting glaciers and ice caps, a retreating Greenland Ice Sheet, and widespread economic and social disruptions across the region.

These changes are attributed unequivocally to climate change, and AMAP expects worse to come, for instance, "Average Arctic autumn-winter temperatures are projected to increase by between 3 and 6 degrees C by 2080, even using scenarios in which greenhouse gas emissions are projected to be lower than they have been for the past ten years" (p. v). Despite this outlook, the study's authors call for nothing more than mitigation and adaptation, evidently resigning themselves to the collapse of the Arctic cryosphere. The potential of geoengineering to halt this collapse is ignored, without explanation or even acknowledgement.

Over the years, many observers have pointed to the Arctic Council as an ideal forum for organizing and conducting geoengineering research, in particular SRM. The Arctic is already suffering disproportionately from climate change, and member states all experience the negative effects of global warming in similar ways. Arctic Council membership is restricted and small, which simplifies bargaining and negotiation among governments. All members are developed countries, which avoids the familiar specter of North-South climate conflict. And the Council incorporates indigenous peoples of the region as "Permanent Participants," representing the interests of those most vulnerable to Arctic decline. So far the Arctic Council has ignored repeated entreaties to consider the possible benefits of climate engineering. Perhaps the results of its own research will now spur the Council to alter its position.

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