Climate change in the Arctic – is there anything we can do?

Opinion by Margareta Johansson, Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science


The Arctic is where it’s happening. Rising temperatures there are double what they are in the rest of the world. The consequences of higher temperatures, shrinking glaciers and thawing permafrost* are of global interest, because what happens in the Arctic has an impact on the rest of the world. Our work as researchers has shifted from simply informing the public about climate change and its potential future impact to include trying to explain that we need to act, and act fast, if we are to influence and mitigate the future effects of the ongoing climate change.

For over a decade, I have had the privilege to work on issues concerning climate change in the Arctic. The events and our knowledge of what is happening have developed dramatically. Through the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), which was published in 2005, and the publicity surrounding that, the public got an eye-opener on the situation in the Arctic. I have been asked many times what we should do to stop the permafrost thawing so fast and releasing large quantities of greenhouse gases, or how we can stop the glaciers melting so that sea levels do not rise as much. I usually point out that my job as a researcher is to inform decision-makers (as well as the public, of course) of what we know, and that this should serve as ammunition when they need to take tough decisions on issues such as how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from human activity.

However, I have begun to re-consider, and recently published an article with some colleagues where we stuck our necks out and said that we cannot simply lay the responsibility on our politicians. It is up to each individual to reflect on what sort of planet we want to leave for coming generations and to take action accordingly. So back to the question: is there anything we can do about ongoing climate change in the Arctic and its effects? The answer has to be yes, we can probably mitigate the impact, but only if everyone joins the fight – and quickly!



Permafrost: permanently frozen ground that has a temperature of 0°C or below for at least two years in a row

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