Average temperature in the Arctic have risen at almost twice the rate as the rest of the world in the past few decades, according to the latest Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA). Most of the environmental and societal impacts would be considered negative, but the independent group acknowledged that reduced sea ice likely would increase marine access and expand offshore oil and natural gas extraction.

The comprehensive assessment, conducted over four years by hundreds of scientists, was requested by the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum that addressees common concerns and challenges faced by arctic people and governments. It is comprised of eight arctic nations, Canada, Denmark/Greenland/Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States; six indigenous peoples organizations, non-governmental organizations and scientific groups.

Along with rising temperatures, “widespread melting of glaciers and sea ice and rising permafrost temperatures present additional evidence of strong arctic warming,” the report found. “These changes in the Arctic provide an early indication of the environmental and societal significance of global warming.”

An acceleration of the climate trends, which scientists believe is the result of greenhouse gases, is expected to occur in this century, which in turn will lead to “wide-ranging changes and impacts” in the region. “For this reason, people outside the Arctic have a great stake in what is happening there…The Arctic also provides important natural resources to the rest of the world (such as oil, gas and fish) that will be affected by climate change.”

A key finding by the scientists is that as sea ice retreats away from most arctic landmasses, there will be new shipping routes opened, extended periods for shipping and increased access to oil and gas resources. Still, the ACIA pointed out that “as the decline in the arctic sea opens historically closed passages, questions are likely to arise regarding sovereignty over shipping routes and seabed resources.”

One impact of the projected increase in marine access for transport and offshore development will be rules for new and revised national and international regulations focusing on marine safety and environmental protection, according to the report. “Another probable outcome…will be an increase in potential conflicts among competing users of arctic waterways and coastal seas, for example, in the Northern Sea Route and Northwest Passage.”

To read the full report, visit the AC IA web site at https://amap.no/acia/index.html.

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