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Arctic Yearbook 2012
25 Years of Arctic Environmental Agency: Changing Issues and Power Relations
Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA, 2005) to the IPCC. This document raised global attention
to climate warming in the region, which it was argued could suddenly accelerate and lead to possibly
catastrophic events with irreversible repercussions, such as the break-up of a big ice shelf section
leading to a rapid increase in sea level (UNEP, GRID, 2007). The metaphor and catchword used to
describe this situation – when unleashed changes start to proceed – was the “tipping point”. For
instance, referring to the ice-melt of the summer 2007, Mark Serreze, scientist from the National
Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder (Colorado), commented that climate models had
underestimated the rate of sea-ice loss and that there was a tipping point under which sea-ice loss
could no longer recover from year to year. According to a model developed by Marika Holland from
the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the critical sea ice thickness may be 2.5 m, and then
“you kind of fall over the edge” (Serreze cit. in Emmerson, 2010: 150-151). The warning of IPCC
had become an alert, with sea-ice loss occurring sooner than predicted.
There may be a more or less natural ‘Arctic oscillation’ factor contributing to this sudden change,
adding to the warming trend induced by anthropogenic emissions. The IPCC leaves the relative
importance of these factors open. But the fact was that in summer 2007 the Northwest Passage
(NWP) was for the first time navigable without breaking ice, and the Northern Sea Route (NSR) was
to a considerable extent as well (Roach, 2007). Climate models and scenarios of mitigation had to be
corrected to reflect the accelerating trend, considering also variables of the climate system such as
snow cover, permafrost, acidification of oceans, increase in coverage of Arctic tundra, and increasing
occurrences of large forest fires.
The impacts of the ‘Arctic amplification’ became visible, but varied
greatly according to the places and the actors concerned. Many impacts were negative but some
appeared to be economically positive, at least in the short or medium term, such as increasing fishing
stocks for some species and in some places, extended agricultural growing seasons and cultivable
areas, increasing accessibility of the seas for shipping shortening formerly longer intercontinental
routes, and last but not least, accessibility to fossil and mineral resources of which extraction costs
diminish with warmer temperatures.
One year after this Arctic climate event, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) released in
2008 estimates stating that about 25% of the world oil and gas reserves lie in the Arctic, most of it
offshore in the Arctic Ocean (13% of world oil reserves and 30% of gas reserves). The Arctic
paradox became obvious, as the Arctic is on one hand the place where effects of climate change are
among the strongest, and on the other, the region where there are some of the greatest remaining