Winter temperatures in the Arctic could rise by 3°C by 2050 and between 5°C and 9°C by 2100.
Even if we stopped emitting any more greenhouse gases right now, we still could not save the Arctic. There is already so much greenhouse gas in the atmosphere that temperatures at the poles will likely rise by 5°C within half a century, the United Nations warns in a new report.
According to researchers, winter temperatures in the Arctic are expected to rise by at least 3°C by 2050 and between 5°C and 9°C by 2100, as compared to pre-industrial levels.
Needless to say, such dramatic rises in temperatures at the pole will have cataclysmic effects on the rest of the planet. Current weather patterns will be severely disrupted and melting ice will cause sea levels to rise to such an extent that coastal areas will be permanently inundated. Worse: ocean acidification will continue to accelerate, which will decimate marine ecosystems.
“What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic,” says Joyce Msuya, the acting executive director at UN Environment. “We have the science; now more urgent climate action is needed to steer away from tipping points that could be even worse for our planet than we first thought.”
The UN-sponsored study has reached the conclusion that even if global emissions were suddenly halted right now, winter temperatures in the Arctic would still skyrocket by 4°C to 5°C by the year 2100 as compared to the temperate in the late 20th century.
“This increase is locked into the climate system by greenhouse gases already emitted and ocean heat storage,” UN Environment explains. “Arctic societies now must respond to climate change through suitable adaptation actions. Arctic Indigenous Peoples already face increased food insecurity. By 2050, four million people, and around 70% of today’s Arctic infrastructure, will be threatened by thawing permafrost.”
Since 1979, the extent of sea ice in the Arctic is believed to have declined by 40%. At the current rate of CO2 emissions, the Arctic will be free of ice during summers by the 2030s. Melting ice from ice caps in Greenland and Arctic glaciers contribute to a third of sea level rise worldwide, the United Nation says.
“Even if the Paris Agreement is met, Arctic permafrost is expected to shrink 45% compared to today,” UN Environment explains. “Globally, these frozen soils hold an estimated 1,672 billion metric tonnes of carbon. Increased thawing is expected to contribute significantly to carbon dioxide and methane emissions.”
The resulting warming will lead to more thawing in an effect known as “positive feedback,” which will accelerate climate change further.
“The urgency to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement is clearly manifested in the Arctic, because it is one of the most vulnerable and rapidly changing regions in the world,” says Kimmo Tiilikainen, Finland’s Minister of the Environment, Energy and Housing. “We need to make substantial near-term cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, black carbon and other so-called short-lived climate pollutants all over the world.”