© Page Chichester / iStock
The Arctic’s average temperature has already risen at a rate of almost three times the global average, warming faster than any other region on Earth, suffering from amplified climate crisis effects while also trying to cope with the impacts from a growing global rush for resources, new shipping routes, and opportunities.
Why are we concerned?
What happens in the Arctic will influence the rest of our planet. Without urgent action to slash greenhouse gas emissions, the world will continue to feel the effects of a warming Arctic. For areas around the world—even thousands of kilometres south of the Arctic—this will mean rising sea levels, changing temperature and precipitation patterns, and more severe weather events.
In the Arctic, changes due to the climate crisis are already causing nature to break down, causing risks to the livelihoods, health and cultural identities of Indigenous and local communities.
These changes, many of which are irreversible, will result in a very different Arctic than the one we have been used to.
How does the climate crisis threaten the Arctic?
Summer sea ice is disappearing
Summer Arctic sea ice extent is shrinking by 13% per decade and the sea ice cover continues to be younger and thinner. Over the last 30 years, the depth of snow on sea ice has declined by more than 33 per cent in the western Arctic. If we can hold the global temperature increase to 1.5°C, the Arctic may retain some summer sea ice—a critical component of its marine ecosystems. But if the increase is greater than 1.5°C, we will lose Arctic summer ice within decades.
Receding ice creates risks for marine species
The declines in sea ice thickness and extent, along with changes in the timing of ice melt, are putting animals that are particularly ice-dependent—such as narwhals, polar bears and walrus—at risk. By 2100, polar bears could face starvation and reproductive failure even in the far north of Canada.
We are already seeing the impacts of the Arctic’s rapidly changing climate on wildlife. Fish are changing their ranges, while southern Arctic species, such as orcas, are pushing further north.
Diminishing snow cover threatens Arctic wildlife
Most plants and animals in the Arctic tundra depend on favourable snow conditions to survive. For example, many require late-lying snow cover to overwinter. Large herbivores—like reindeer—can’t reach their food when hard ice layers replace soft snowpack, as happens during the freeze–thaw cycles (when rain falls on snow and freezes, creating an impenetrable layer of ice that prevents the animals from getting to their food), that are becoming more frequent.
The problem is that we don’t know exactly how the snow will change as the climate warms, or what the Arctic snow conditions will be like if we succeed in limiting global warming to 1.5°C. Depending on the rate of change, the snow could either buffer or speed up changes in Arctic biodiversity.
The Arctic is no longer an effective global air conditioner
The rapidly diminishing Arctic sea ice is accelerating warming for the entire Earth. Sea ice reflectivity helps regulate the amount of sunlight that enters the Arctic region—and in turn, the area’s temperatures. As more sea ice disappears, the underlying ocean surface is exposed. This much darker ocean surface absorbs sunlight instead of reflecting it, allowing much more heat to enter the Arctic system. It is a vicious circle: less sea ice means more open ocean, more heat absorption and more climate change, not just within the region but beyond.
Sea levels are rising
While Arctic glaciers and ice caps represent only 25 per cent of the world’s land ice area, meltwater from these sources accounts for 35 per cent of the current global sea-level rise. The Greenland Ice Sheet is the world’s second-largest repository of freshwater. As it melts into the ocean and raises sea levels, the effects will be felt around the world. Under a business-as-usual scenario, Greenland alone could lead to a sea level rise ofat least 14 centimetres—and as much as 33 centimetres—this century alone. By 2200, it could be a metre or more.
Shipping is ramping up
Shipping in the Arctic is on the rise as sea ice recedes and the pressure to access Arctic resources intensifies. More vessels mean increased risks to Arctic ecosystems and wildlife, from heavy fuel oil spills to air and underwater noise pollution and the break-up of the remaining ice. Consequences include food shortages and risks to people’s livelihoods, cultures and health, especially in Indigenous communities.
Wildfires are surging as the climate warms
Climate change has been identified as the major culprit behind the wildfires we are witnessing in the Arctic. The number and frequency of extreme forest and tundra wildfires, notably in Alaska and Siberia, are increasing as the Arctic warms, leading to evacuations, loss of economic activity, and negative health effects.
Wildfires are a negative feedback loop for climate change because they release greenhouse gases and burn through habitat. They threaten ecologically valuable habitats for species like caribou and salmon. Declines in these species, in turn, threaten food security, infrastructure, health and cultural identities for people living in the Arctic.
Permafrost is thawing
Permafrost covers 24 per cent of land masses in the northern hemisphere and is also found on the ocean floor. It consists of permanently frozen layers of ground, from the surface to depths of hundreds of metres.
Permafrost plays a key role in storing carbon. It keeps the ground solid, stopping erosion and supporting infrastructure. It is also vital for Arctic species like migrating reindeer, preventing them from sinking into wetlands, especially during their spring migrations.
But permafrost temperatures have increased to record levels in the past 30 years. As it thaws and degrades, the buildings, pipelines and airstrips that are built upon it can tilt and become unstable. Up to 50 per cent of Arctic infrastructure could be at risk of damage by 2050.
Coastlines are eroding
Coastlines in many parts of the Arctic have some of the highest rates of erosion on Earth. The combined impacts of long-term warming (higher water temperatures, longer ice-free seasons, continuing permafrost thaw) and extreme events (such as storm-driven waves and swell) are driving the increase.
Up to five metres of coastline are disappearing every year in some areas of Alaska. With little or no sea ice to buffer shorelines, storm surges are extending their reach several kilometres inland, flooding communities, killing wetlands and accelerating the thawing of permafrost. Along with damage to property and infrastructure, this is causing the irreversible loss of livelihoods and cultural heritage.
Arctic communities are experiencing food shortages and risks to livelihoods
Climate change is also having an impact on people and communities. Changes in sea ice, precipitation, snow cover, temperatures and tundra productivity are affecting the availability of traditional foods, such as whales, walrus, seabirds, seals, caribou and even berries. In some areas, tundra greening is changing the ranges of the wildlife species that are important to hunters. In many Arctic regions, alternatives to traditional, locally sourced foods are unaffordable.
Reindeer herders in Fennoscandia and Russia have experienced major losses in their herds due to extreme snowfall and rain-on-snow events (when rain falls on snow and freezes, creating an impenetrable layer of ice that prevents the animals from getting to their food).
Travel routes are no longer safe
Some traditional routes across the sea ice are no longer safe. This not only creates a hazard, but also restricts access to harvesting sites. For example, hunters in northwest Greenland report that the period when it’s possible to travel on sea ice by dogsled has decreased to three months from five months.
Losses and decreases in the thickness of sea, lake and river ice—and changes in permafrost conditions—are affecting or threatening ice roads, restricting access to and from remote communities.
Economic development is adding to climate pressures
The Arctic has been identified as a strategic region for obtaining metals, oil and gas, including clean energy materials and minerals and wind power. The growing political and economic interest in Arctic land- and seascapes is leading to more intensive industrial activities that present significant challenges to Arctic ecosystems and Indigenous communities.
The development of Arctic resources could help with some of the economic and social problems that many Arctic communities are facing. However, there is no guarantee that the people living in the Arctic will share any of the benefits.
Map a future for the Arctic’s ice
The “Last Ice Area” is the Arctic region where summer sea ice is projected to last the longest. This area could be critically important to species that depend on ice. We are working with local people and governments to manage this area that benefits all Arctic life.
Urge government action to halt the climate crisis
The eight Arctic states, which accounted for more than 21 per cent of global CO2 emissions in 2019, should commit to achieving a 50 per cent reduction in current emissions by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050.
We need to close the gap between talk and action, put a stop to global warming, and not just halt but reverse nature loss by 2030. Every tenth of adegree of global warming that we can avert matters, and time is running out. The lower the emissions, the lower the risks. Governments need to adopt stronger targets and put policies in place to meet them.
Plan now for the changes happening in the Arctic
Rapidly unfolding events will soon overwhelm the ability of decision-makers to respond meaningfully to coastal erosion, wildfires, thawing permafrost and powerful storms.
We must adapt to living in a climate-changed world. This fact reinforces the urgent need for local and regional plans that can reduce vulnerabilities and take advantage of opportunities to build resilience. We must prepare for a new normal in the Arctic because many of the changes now underway are already irreversible.We must overcome challenges in funding, skills and institutional support to plan for a new Arctic.
Protect important habitats
Ecosystems or specific habitats that are unique and vulnerable, like those in the Arctic should be protected to save biodiversity. In 2016, 20.2 per cent of Arctic land areas were protected, but only 4.7 per cent of the Arctic Ocean.
At least 30 per cent of all land, seas and fresh water must be protected by governments, Indigenous Peoples and local communities. We must conserve, protect and sustainably manage Arctic nature, building the resilience of these land- and seascapes. But protecting the Arctic will be too big a job if we can’t stop the warming.
There is big range and difference in what the future of the Arctic will look like. It all depends on the actions we take today.
Switch to renewable energy
We urgently need to transition towards a 100 per cent renewable future by developing clean energy sources. Governments need to finance renewable resources for Arctic communities through programmes and incentives, including by redirecting existing subsidies for fossil fuel production and consumption and by promoting international cooperation to advance renewable energy provision.
Investments in renewable energy have the potential to bring about great opportunities—from exciting technologies to new commercial and employment opportunities.
Financial institutions should align their investments with Paris Agreement pathways and should decline to invest in companies and Arctic projects that are not in keeping with the1.5°C threshold.
Support the conservation and restoration of wetlands
Wetlands, including those in the Arctic, are critical for bird migration, wildlife habitat and biodiversity generally, and for water-related ecosystem services and support of recreational activities and traditional livelihoods. They also store large amounts of carbon. The only way to avoid large emissions from wetland greenhouse gases is to slow human emissions globally. Restoring damaged and degraded wetlands can substantially reduce emissions.
What is the WWF Arctic Programme doing?
We want a net-zero, climate-resilient future in which greenhouse gas emissions are low and stable. We are taking active steps to help people and nature adapt to the impacts of the climate crisis. This will require a huge global effort, but we remain positive.
Studying the Last Ice Area
A WWF resilience project is investigating the area in the north of Greenland and Canada’s Arctic Islands where summer sea ice is projected to last the longest. Known as the “Last Ice Area,” this region could be critically important to ice-dependent species, such as polar bears, in the future. We are engaging with local people and governments to achieve conservation goals and manage the area in a way that meets their needs.
Implementing ArcNet – a vision, network, and tool for marine conservation
If we let it, nature can help us adapt and buffer us against the impacts of a warmer world. It can protect communities from extreme weather events, absorb and store carbon, and be a source of food and livelihoods. WWF has produced ArcNet, an ocean-spanning network of marine conservation areas in the Arctic that supports resilience for Arctic biodiversity and gives nature some elbow room to adapt to the inevitable changes.
ArcNet is a map that shows the vision for a network of priority areas that governments and communities need to conserve throughout the Arctic Ocean. ArcNet is also a concrete tool for marine planning and management. ArcNet considers a region’s marine ecosystems and how they function, then suggests the best way forward to support a healthy and biodiverse Arctic.
Advocating for the complete phase-out of fossil fuels
The WWF Arctic Programme advocates against new exploration, investments and the development of fossil fuel reserves in the Arctic, as well as the construction of associated infrastructure that would support or stimulate the opening of new extraction sites. We have opposed oil production in the Arctic overall along with the United States’ plan to open drilling in the Arctic Refuge.
Communicating about a warmer Arctic
The WWF Arctic Programme provides consolidated science-based reports, content and focused media tools. We tell compelling stories that transport audiences to Arctic communities and landscapes impacted by climate change. By sharing stories about the issues faced by the people and wildlife who call the Arctic home, we aim to show the world how important and urgent it is to halt the climate crisis immediately.
Latest news about climate change
Read our latest news, features and reports about climate change in the Arctic
What is the best answer for climate change? ›
Renewable Energy. Transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy is the key to winning the fight against climate change. Here are the most common sources of renewable energy—and one source of decidedly nonrenewable energy that often gets included (falsely) in the list.How is climate change impacting the Arctic? ›
The temperatures in the Arctic continue to rise at three times the global annual average, driving many of the changes underway in the Arctic. Most prominently, snow and ice are melting at an increasing rate. This impacts both local ecosystems and the global climate system.What is the Arctic paradox? ›
A paper published in Nature in 2005 referred to an “Arctic paradox.” It drew attention to the fact that the Arctic was a pollution sink whereby human and animal communities were on the receiving end of environmental change originating elsewhere.How long will it be before the Arctic is ice free? ›
The Arctic could see ice-free summers by 2035, reshaping global shipping routes. Arctic sea lanes might be ice-free in the summertime by 2035, according to scientists.What is the No 1 cause of climate change? ›
Human activity is the main cause of climate change. People burn fossil fuels and convert land from forests to agriculture. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, people have burned more and more fossil fuels and changed vast areas of land from forests to farmland.What are the top 3 causes of climate change? ›
- Generating power. Generating electricity and heat by burning fossil fuels causes a large chunk of global emissions. ...
- Manufacturing goods. ...
- Cutting down forests. ...
- Using transportation. ...
- Producing food. ...
- Powering buildings. ...
- Consuming too much.
Coastlines in many parts of the Arctic have some of the highest rates of erosion on Earth. The combined impacts of long-term warming (higher water temperatures, longer ice-free seasons, continuing permafrost thaw) and extreme events (such as storm-driven waves and swell) are driving the increase.How can we stop climate change in the Arctic? ›
“Reducing current methane emissions represents a huge opportunity to help pump the brakes on global warming,” said Tianyi Sun, lead author of the study. “Quickly cutting methane along with CO2 is our best chance at preserving Arctic summer sea ice within our lifetimes and for future generations.What is the main problem in the Arctic? ›
Three main interrelated issues are affecting the Arctic environment: climate change, changes in biological diversity and the accumulation of toxic substances. The Arctic appears to be both a harbinger of environmental change and a key determinant of that change, particularly as it relates to climate.What is the biggest threat to the Arctic? ›
Like many habitats and environments, climate change is considered to be the biggest threat to the Arctic habitat. Oil and gas exploration, as well as mining, are substantial threats to the Arctic climate, people and wildlife.
Is the Arctic likely to become ice free? ›
A new analysis, using global climate models, predicts that most of the Arctic Ocean could become ice-free during summer by 2050.Why does the US want the Arctic? ›
Arctic Natural Resources
There are across the entire Arctic oil, gas, coal, rare-earth metals, and fisheries. It is estimated that 13 percent of the undiscovered oil and 30 percent of the gas worldwide is in the region, along with a host of other resources.
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.Why are we overdue for an ice age? ›
However, the two factors related to Earth's orbit that affect the glacials' and interglacials' formation are off, Live Science added. “That, coupled with the fact that we pump so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, means we're probably not going to enter a glacial for at least 100,000 years," said Sandstrom.What year will arctic ice disappear? ›
SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt, Nov 7 (Reuters) - Climate change is rapidly melting away the world's frozen regions, with summertime Arctic sea ice sure to vanish by 2050, according to a report published on Monday.Which country is the biggest contributor to climate change? ›
- China. China is the largest emitter of carbon dioxide gas in the world, with 10,668 million metric tons emitted in 2020. ...
- The U.S. The U.S. is the second-largest emitter of CO2, with 4,713 million metric tons of total carbon dioxide emissions in 2020. ...
- India. ...
Transportation, Industry, Agriculture, and Land Use and Forestry are four global emission sectors that roughly correspond to the U.S. sectors.What are 5 ways to stop global warming? ›
- Change a light. Replacing one regular light bulb with a compact fluorescent light bulb will save 150 pounds of carbon dioxide a year.
- Drive less. ...
- Recycle more. ...
- Check your tires. ...
- Use less hot water. ...
- Avoid products with a lot of packaging. ...
- Adjust your thermostat. ...
- Plant a tree.
- Electricity Generation and Heat Production. The first sector on our list is electricity generation and heat production, which accounts for approximately 28% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. ...
- Transportation. ...
- Industry. ...
- Commercial and Residential Emissions. ...
Scientists agree that global warming is caused mainly by human activity. Specifically, the evidence shows that certain heat-trapping gases, such as carbon dioxide, are warming the world—and that we release those gases when we burn fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas.
How to fix climate change? ›
- Keep fossil fuels in the ground. ...
- Invest in renewable energy. ...
- Switch to sustainable transport. ...
- Help us keep our homes cosy. ...
- Improve farming and encourage vegan diets. ...
- Restore nature to absorb more carbon. ...
- Protect forests like the Amazon. ...
- Protect the oceans.
Reducing your carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels can help save the Arctic. Discover practical ways you can make a difference, from joining our campaigns to shopping greener at the supermarket and making your home energy efficient.What will happen if all the ice melts? ›
There is still some uncertainty about the full volume of glaciers and ice caps on Earth, but if all of them were to melt, global sea level would rise approximately 70 meters (approximately 230 feet), flooding every coastal city on the planet.What are 3 harmful effects of climate change? ›
Climate change has caused increased heat, drought, and insect outbreaks. In turn, these changes have made wildfires more numerous and severe. The warming climate has also caused a decline in water supplies, reduced agricultural yields, and triggered heat-related health impacts in cities.Can the Arctic ice Be Saved? ›
According to the study, net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 (as laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement) combined with quick methane reductions, increases the odds of preserving Arctic summer sea ice this century from nearly zero to 80%. “If we do nothing, Arctic summer sea ice will likely vanish.Why should we protect Arctic? ›
Not just because it's home to the iconic polar bear, and four million people, but also because it helps keep our world's climate in balance. Arctic sea ice acts as a huge white reflector at the top of the planet, bouncing some of the sun's rays back into space, helping keep the Earth at an even temperature.Can the Arctic be refrozen? ›
Summary: Refreezing the poles by reducing incoming sunlight would be both feasible and remarkably cheap, according to new research. The poles are warming several times faster than the global average, causing record smashing heatwaves that were reported earlier this year in both the Arctic and Antarctic.Is the Arctic melting because of global warming? ›
Polar ice caps are melting as global warming causes climate change. We lose Arctic sea ice at a rate of almost 13% per decade, and over the past 30 years, the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic has declined by a stunning 95%.How are we destroying the Arctic? ›
Global warming is causing permafrost in the Arctic to thaw and sea ice to melt. As a result, coasts are less protected and are being eroded, while carbon stored in the soil and carbon dioxide are being released into the ocean and atmosphere.How are humans destroying the Arctic? ›
Global warming and the extracting of oil and gas from the tundra are the biggest threats. Human settlement and population are beginning to have an increasingly worrying effect on the biome. Oil, gas and valuable resources such as diamond and gold, have recently been discovered in arctic tundra regions.
What is happening to the Arctic ice every 10 years? ›
Summer Arctic sea ice extent is shrinking by 12.6% per decade as a result of global warming. Arctic sea ice reaches its minimum extent (the area in which satellite sensors show individual pixels to be at least 15% covered in ice) each September.What will happen to the Arctic in the future? ›
Anticipated warming will thaw permafrost over large areas of the Arctic leading to the release of more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, adding to global warming.Is the Arctic getting colder or warmer? ›
The Arctic is warming nearly four times faster than the rest of the Earth, researchers discovered this year, a phenomenon that is raising sea levels across the world.Is the Arctic getting greener? ›
Satellite images show the Arctic has been getting greener as temperatures in the far northern region rise three times faster than the global average. Some theories suggest that this “Arctic greening” will help counteract climate change.How long will it take for all the ice to melt? ›
There are more than five million cubic miles of ice on Earth, and some scientists say it would take more than 5,000 years to melt it all.Why is China so interested in the Arctic? ›
The promise of Arctic riches—oil, minerals, trade routes, even fish—has started to draw interest from far outside the northern latitudes. China has declared itself a “near-Arctic state,” a designation it invented to push for a greater role in Arctic governance.Why does China want the Arctic? ›
China also believes that, in line with international legal treaties — especially the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Spitsbergen Treaty — it enjoys such rights as scientific research, freedom of navigation, and overflight, fishery, cable-laying and resource development in the Arctic high seas.Why does Russia want to own the Arctic? ›
The main goals of Russia in its Arctic policy are to utilize its natural resources, protect its ecosystems, use the seas as a transportation system in Russia's interests, and ensure that it remains a zone of peace and cooperation.What is climate very short question answer? ›
Climate is the average weather condition, which has been measured over many years.What is a climate change impact * Your answer? ›
Effects of climate change include increasing air and sea temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns, more frequent and increasingly severe extreme weather events and sea level rise.
What is climate answer in one sentence? ›
Climate is the average weather in a given area over a longer period of time. A description of a climate includes information on, e.g. the average temperature in different seasons, rainfall, and sunshine.What is Climate Change 150 words? ›
Short Essay on Climate Change in English 150 words
Climate change refers to the adverse change in the environment and its impacts on the living organisms on Earth. The climate of Earth has become warmer over the last two million years for which, climate change and global warming is responsible.
Complete answer: Mahawat is the local name of winter monsoon in India and this happens because of the western disturbances and also south west monsoon winds.Where is climate change the worst? ›
- Afghanistan. ...
- Bangladesh. ...
- Chad. ...
- Haiti. ...
- Kenya. ...
- Malawi. ...
- Niger. ...
Increased temperatures, drought and water stress, diseases, and weather extremes create challenges for the farmers and ranchers who put food on our tables. Human farm workers can suffer from heat-related health issues, like exhaustion, heatstroke, and heart attacks.What are the 5 main effects of climate change? ›
More frequent and intense drought, storms, heat waves, rising sea levels, melting glaciers and warming oceans can directly harm animals, destroy the places they live, and wreak havoc on people's livelihoods and communities.