The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has declared that an international response to challenges in the Arctic is “urgently needed” in its review of the past year.
As melting ice increases, new opportunities including easier access to oil and gas, minerals and fisheries are developing. UNEP’s 2013 yearbook, called Emerging issues in our global environment, explores the issue with emphasis on the consequences involved with the changes in the Arctic.
Arctic sea ice cover shrunk to its lowest ever level in August last year. The report explains how human-caused greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide and soot (also known as black carbon) are causing a warming effect on the region.
The decline in ice cover, alongside greater exploitation risks, will threaten ecosystems, forcing species that depend on the ice for crucial breeding grounds and location of prey to search further afield. The transformation of land may also compromise the well-being and livelihoods of indigenous communities.
“The footprint of new economic development in the Arctic remains small”, UNEP’s review reads.
“Yet by fragmenting the landscape, economic development can interrupt hydrology, endanger ecosystems, and prevent the passage of migrating caribou and reindeer in search of grazing spots and calving areas.”
Recommendations listed in the 2013 yearbook include further research into the present and future climate impacts of chemical pollutants and the implications for rising global sea levels.
UNEP adds, “Reducing greenhouse gas emissions remains the most important measure, as climate change dominates the current transformation of the Arctic environment.”
It concludes with the message, “While Arctic countries need to take the lead, inputs from non-Arctic countries are vital, as the rest of the world stands to lose – or gain – from Arctic change.”