Arctic Meltdown: Economic and Security Implications of Global Warming

Written by  //  August 22, 2013  //  Arctic and Antarctic, Cleo Paskal, Geopolitics  //  No comments

First ship cross the top of the world from Scandinavia to Asia.
Northeast Passage: Russia Moves to Boost Arctic Shipping
This year has seen a record number of ships pass through the Northeast Passage in the Arctic Ocean. Russian President Vladimir Putin is doing all he can to make the route even more attractive.
(Spiegel) … Putin has recently taken on euphoric tones when referring to the “Northern Sea Route,” as the Russians call their section of the Northeast Passage. With the help of billions in infrastructure investments, [he] hopes to turn the route into the Suez of the north. In his words, the seaway along the tundra has a golden future as an “international trade route.”
But the only thing international about it will likely be the customers. The Russians insist that they control the entire Northern Sea Route, even though parts of it pass through international waters.
… Many polar settlements from the Soviet era have turned into ghost towns. If a ship were in distress in the region, it would take many days for rescue teams to arrive at the scene. Nor are their ship repair yards in the region should a vessel run into technical problems.
Perhaps more concerning, there is also a lack of precise charts and modern meteorological equipment. And no one knows what to do if there were an oil spill.
18 August
Northern Sea RouteChina’s voyage of discovery to cross the less frozen north
(The Guardian) Global warming means that the Arctic’s fabled Northern Sea Route could soon be ice-free in summer, slashing journey times for cargo ships sailing from the Far East to Europe. Which is why the Yong Sheng, a rust-streaked Chinese vessel, is on a truly historic journey.
For a ship on a mission of worldwide importance, the Yong Sheng is a distinctly unimpressive sight. The grey and green hull of the 19,000-tonne cargo vessel, operated by China‘s state-owned Cosco Group, is streaked with rust, while its cargo of steel and heavy equipment would best be described as prosaic.
Yet the Yong Sheng’s journey, which began on 8 August from Dalian, a port in north-eastern China, to Rotterdam is being watched with fascination by politicians and scientists. They are intrigued, not by its cargo, but by its route – for the Yong Sheng is headed in the opposite direction from the Netherlands and sailing towards the Bering Strait that separates Russia and Alaska. Once through the strait, it will enter the Arctic Ocean, where it will attempt one of the most audacious voyages of modern seafaring: sailing through one of the Arctic’s fabled passages, the Northern Sea Route.
1 August
Arctic Ice Melt: Sea Ice Loss Threatens Entire Arctic Ecosystem, According to U of A Study
A review of the latest research on the Arctic says the accelerating loss of sea ice is kicking the legs out from under the entire northern dinner table with consequences for large animals and tiny plants alike.
“We’re losing all the things that life depends on,” said Ian Stirling, an adjunct professor at the University of Alberta and one of the co-authors of a study published Thursday in the prestigious journal Science.
The paper reviews dozens of recent studies on the Arctic in an attempt to provide a big-picture look at the overall ecological consequences of vanishing sea ice.
The conclusions are chilling.
“Primary producers dependent on sea ice as their habitat underpin the entire marine food web of the Arctic,” it says. “The loss of over two million square kilometres of Arctic sea ice since the end of the last century represents a stunning loss of habitat.”
25 July
Climate science: Vast costs of Arctic change
Methane released by melting permafrost will have global impacts that must be better modelled, say Gail Whiteman, Chris Hope and Peter Wadhams.
(Nature) We calculate that the costs of a melting Arctic will be huge, because the region is pivotal to the functioning of Earth systems such as oceans and the climate. The release of methane from thawing permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea, off northern Russia, alone comes with an average global price tag of $60 trillion in the absence of mitigating action — a figure comparable to the size of the world economy in 2012 (about $70 trillion). The total cost of Arctic change will be much higher.

Background on UN Convention of Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

Real Climate – Climate science from climate scientists Arctic & Antarctic


Photograph: Louise Murray/Science Photo Library

2012

4 September
3 Ways Arctic Meltdown Threatens the Whole World
By Kassie Siegel, Director, Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute
(HuffPost) This is how an ecosystem dies. The extent of summer sea ice across the Arctic recently reached the lowest point on record, according to satellite measurements from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
If the polar meltdown continues at this pace, some experts say, the Arctic sea could be ice-free for a day or more by 2020. For polar bears and many other amazing Arctic animals, this is the beginning of the end. They depend on sea ice for survival. If we allow the ice to vanish, they will go with it.
But as devastating as those extinctions will be, the consequences won’t stop there. The death of the Arctic is likely to affect you personally — whoever you are and wherever you live.
That’s because, while Arctic sea ice is a victim of global warming, it’s also one of the planet’s most important defenses against the climate change that results from pumping more than 30 gigatons of man-made carbon dioxide pollution into the atmosphere every year. And that defense is about to fail.
The exact consequences are hard to predict. But here are three possible outcomes that could wreak havoc from Boston to Bangladesh:
16 August
Researchers Find Link between Arctic Meltdown and Summer Floods and Fires
Shifting summer winds may be to blame for record low Arctic summer sea ice as well as severe weather farther south
(Scientific American) A new weather pattern that sends blasts of warm southern air into the Arctic each June has fueled the recent, dramatic decline of the region’s sea ice, according to a new government-funded study.
But that is not all it has done, the analysis suggests, linking the shifting summer winds to record thaws of the Greenland ice sheet, unusually wet European summers and Rocky Mountain wildfires.
Researchers say the switch from light, variable east-west winds to stronger, warmer blasts of southern air appears to have strengthened a climate feedback loop they call “Arctic amplification.”
… As the amount of ice that melts each summer increases, it opens larger and larger patches of dark Arctic Ocean waters that absorb more heat than the reflective ice they replace, a process that accelerates Arctic warming.
17 February
As ice melts in Far North, opportunities abound to advance Canada’s oceanic laws
(Science Codex) Thinning ice resulting from climate change in the Arctic is happening far faster than experts previously imagined. With it come new global shipping routes and growing interest in natural resource development and regional tourism. These changes, says a leading expert in oceanic governance, are urging Canada to advance its laws on shipping regulation, ocean governance and marine biodiversity protection.
David VanderZwaag, Canada Research Chair in Ocean Law and Governance, says that, although Canada faces growing challenges in Arctic governance given increased regional activity and mounting interest in developing the region’s oil, gas and mineral industries, it has the potential to lead the way by how it governs its oceans and adopts practices of sustainable development in the Far North.

2011

24 September
Climate change in the Arctic
Beating a retreat
Arctic sea ice is melting far faster than climate models predict. Why?
(The Economist) That Arctic sea ice is disappearing has been known for decades. The underlying cause is believed by all but a handful of climatologists to be global warming brought about by greenhouse-gas emissions. Yet the rate the ice is vanishing confounds these climatologists’ models. These predict that if the level of carbon dioxide, methane and so on in the atmosphere continues to rise, then the Arctic Ocean will be free of floating summer ice by the end of the century. At current rates of shrinkage, by contrast, this looks likely to happen some time between 2020 and 2050.
The reason is that Arctic air is warming twice as fast as the atmosphere as a whole. Some of the causes of this are understood, but some are not. The darkness of land and water compared with the reflectiveness of snow and ice means that when the latter melt to reveal the former, the area exposed absorbs more heat from the sun and reflects less of it back into space. The result is a feedback loop that accelerates local warming. Such feedback, though, does not completely explain what is happening. Hence the search for other things that might assist the ice’s rapid disappearance.
6 September
Total Arctic Sea Ice At Record Low In 2010: Study
(Planet Ark) The minimum summertime volume of Arctic sea ice fell to a record low last year, researchers said in a study to be published shortly, suggesting that thinning of the ice had outweighed a recovery in area.
The study estimated that last year broke the previous, 2007 record for the minimum volume of ice, which is calculated from a combination of sea ice area and thickness.
The research adds to a picture of rapid climate change at the top of the world that could see the Arctic Ocean ice-free within decades, spurring new oil exploration opportunities but possibly also disrupted weather patterns far afield and a faster rise in sea levels.

2010

Shipping pollution to increase as Arctic ice melts
As ice melt accelerates in the Arctic, oil and gas exploration emissions are unlikely to change significantly but pollution from shipping in the region will increase, according to a study from Norwegian scientists. Arctic transit is shorter than current Asia to Europe routes and container transit through the region is expected to rise. The Washington Post (7/4)
Temperatures have risen and sea ice has melted to record setting levels in the Arctic, and the region is unlikely to ever return to previous colder states, international atmospheric researchers warn. Researchers tied recent severe storms in the U.S. and Europe to the warming Arctic, and caution that sea level rise predictions and other climate-related projections will need to be scaled up as a result of the findings. TIME/The Associated Press (10/21) , AlertNet.org/Reuters (10/21)
3 May
Global warming accelerated by Arctic ice loss
recent reports by climate scientists state that global warming may be getting more critical than usual. It is known globally by everyone that the temperature of Arctic is rising very hastily. As a matter of fact, the temperatures of Arctic are increasing twice faster than the temperatures of the earth. The temperature rise leads to more ice meltdown especially during summer.
These reports were prepared by including data from various sources, including weather stations, satellites, ships, and planes. The maximum increase in temperature is near the sea surface, particularly in Arctic Ocean, and the impact is usually not felt at eminent levels. This report has also taken into account data from a range of other places rather than just a single source.
9 February
Melting ice alters way of life in Iqaluit
Inuit hunters are witnessing the effects of global warming first-hand, and what they are seeing should ring alarm bells for the rest of the world.
5 February
Study Says Arctic Ice Melt to Cost Global Economy $2.4 Trillion
Experts Say Estimating Dollar Cost of Global Warming Devilishly Complex
Estimates about the impact of Arctic warming are incomplete since, as the Pew study [Arctic Treasure: Global Assets Melting Away] authors warn, some of the major Arctic Earth systems that will affect world economy cannot be assessed with exactitude.
These unknowns include:
Just how ocean currents will shift as Earth warms.
How much additional warming of the air may result as giant but unseen natural stores of methane in the frigid seabed’s begin to bubble out as warming currents thaw them.
How the complex yearly give-and-take cycles of carbon dioxide (CO2) by Arctic plants and animals — as they breathe in and out — will alter as average global temperature rises.
7 January 2010
Canada’s Arctic meltdown grows at alarming pace
American researchers suggest the melting season for Arctic sea ice is growing faster across much of the Canadian Arctic than anywhere else in the world. They found that, on average, sea ice has started melting 2.5 days earlier every decade and begun to refreeze 3.7 days later. That means the average melt season is just under 20 days longer than it was 30 years ago.
7 April 2009
Giant mass of Antarctic ice ‘set for collapse’
(New Scientist) The ESA reported that an ice bridge between two islands protecting the Wilkins Ice Shelf from the open ocean has now collapsed, leaving in its wake a channel full of icebergs, and exposing the northern front of the ice shelf.

The Wilkins Ice Shelf in Antarctic set to collapse after ice bridge breaks
An ice bridge connecting an Antarctic island to the mainland and holding an ice shelf half the size of Scotland in place has broken for the first time in recorded history.
28 March
An Arctic Circle of Friends
By Scott Borgerson, visiting fellow for ocean governance at the Council on Foreign Relations and Caitlyn Antrim, executive director of the Rule of Law Committee for the Oceans.
The Convention on the Law of the Sea recognizes that Canada, Denmark, Norway and Russia may be entitled to extend their seabed boundaries — and even sets a deadline for doing so. (Because the United States has not joined the Convention, it cannot make a claim to the extended continental shelf.) But it leaves it to those countries to resolve overlapping claims among themselves. Disputes over jurisdiction stand to slow the process of setting up a system for protecting the Arctic and could also poison international relations elsewhere.
One approach would be for the states and international organizations most involved in the Arctic to designate everything above 88 degrees latitude north — a circle with a 120-nautical-mile radius — as a marine park.
Russia consolidating power over Arctic interests
Russia is asserting a claim Arctic territory exposed by melting ice is a continuation of the Siberian continental shelf — a claim that runs counter to international law, which divides the Arctic Ocean area among Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the U.S. Reuters (3/26)
29 January
Thawing seas in Arctic regions may lead to new security risks
(CBC) REYKJAVIK, Iceland – NATO commanders and legislators from alliance nations were gathering Thursday to examine the risks posed by the thawing Arctic Circle and the prospect of standoffs among nations rushing to lay claim to the energy reserves there.
The possibility of new shipping routes through once-frozen regions threatens to complicate already delicate relations between countries with competing claims to Arctic territory – particularly as previously inaccessible areas open to exploration for their abundant reserves of oil and natural gas.
21 January
Antarctic is warming, not immune to climate change
A new study tracking temperatures over the past five decades challenges the belief that the Antarctic was the one area of the world untouched by climate change, according to research published Thursday in the journal Nature. The Globe and Mail (Toronto) (1/21)
Arctic may already be permanently damaged by global warming
A new study warns the point of irreversible climate change damage may have already been reached in the Arctic, where temperatures continue to rise much faster than anywhere else in the world. …the study posits that a dramatic change in atmospheric circulation patterns has taken place since the beginning of the decade, with centers of high pressure in winter shifting toward the north-east. The new pattern of sudden climate change is characterized by “poleward atmospheric and oceanic heat transport.” Der Spiegel (English online version) (12/4/08)
20 November
EU urges action to exploit Arctic oil and gas
(FT) European Union policymakers have called for a concerted international effort to exploit the Arctic’s oil and gas resources and said its vast untapped reserves could enhance Europe’s energy security
European Union policymakers called for a carefully managed international effort to exploit the Arctic’s oil and gas resources and said that its vast untapped reserves could enhance Europe’s energy security.
The European Commission demanded observance of the highest environmental standards and appealed for full protection of the rights of indigenous Arctic people.
9 October
The Arctic contest heats up
What is Russia up to in the seas above Europe?

(The Economist) COLD, empty and rich in fish and minerals, the seas of the “High North” are a tempting prize for a big, confident country. Even before the startling news of Vladimir Putin’s offer of a €4 billion ($5.4 billion) emergency loan to Iceland (see article), Russia had been beefing up its presence in a part of the world where the NATO presence is fitful. Although American submarines still ply the northern seas, other NATO vessels are rarely seen. America bruised Icelandic feelings when it pulled out of its Keflavik air base in 2006.
The Kremlin, by contrast, commands a cash pile of over $500 billion and, despite sagging markets in Moscow, is well-placed to assist a country facing bankruptcy. … What Russia might want in exchange is unclear. But it is unlikely to be nothing.
Arctic Ice Retreat May Be Harbinger of Climate Change
By Alex Morales
Sept. 16 (Bloomberg) — The shrinking of Arctic sea ice to its second-smallest size on record signals greater changes in the Earth’s climate as it opens previously frozen shipping routes.
… The seasonal melt is also opening up potential trade routes between the Atlantic and Pacific and making undersea resources more accessible, said Cleo Paskal, a geopolitical analyst at Chatham House, a policy adviser in London.
“The situation is changing very quickly because of climate change”, Paskal said. “There’s unquestionably going to be dramatically increased traffic through the Arctic.”
“It’s advantageous for shipping and in a military-conflict situation,” Paskal said. “It needs to be managed very carefully for it not to be another destabilizing factor in geopolitical affairs.”
… Of the northern nations, Russia has a “big advantage in strategic control over the Arctic” because it has ports on the permafrost and a fleet of icebreaker ships, Paskal said.
17 August
A Push to Increase [U.S.] Icebreakers in the Arctic
A growing array of military leaders, Arctic experts and lawmakers say the United States is losing its ability to patrol and safeguard Arctic waters even as climate change and high energy prices have triggered a burst of shipping and oil and gas exploration in the thawing region.
25 July
Riches in the Arctic: the new oil race
(The Independent) It is the increasingly rapid melting of the Arctic sea ice, which last September hit a new record summer low, and of land-based ice on Greenland, which is opening up the possibility of the once frozen wasteland providing a natural resources and minerals bonanza, not to mention a major new transport route – last year the fabled North-West Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific along the top of Canada was navigable for the first time.
Scientists consider that global warming is responsible for the melting, with the high latitudes of the Arctic warming twice as fast as the rest of the world.
27 June
Exclusive: No ice at the North Pole
(The Independent) It seems unthinkable, but for the first time in human history, ice is on course to disappear entirely from the North Pole this year.
The disappearance of the Arctic sea ice, making it possible to reach the Pole sailing in a boat through open water, would be one of the most dramatic – and worrying – examples of the impact of global warming on the planet. Scientists say the ice at 90 degrees north may well have melted away by the summer.
19 June
Scientists: Melting of Arctic sea ice speeding up
Arctic sea ice is melting at a quicker pace than was the case last year, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center reported. The faster melting comes despite the cold winter, scientists said. BBC (6/18)
May 23
Vast cracks appear in Arctic ice
(BBC) Dramatic evidence of the break-up of the Arctic ice-cap has emerged from research during an expedition by the Canadian military.
Scientists travelling with the troops found major new fractures during an assessment of the state of giant ice shelves in Canada’s far north.
The team found a network of cracks that stretched for more than 10 miles (16km) on Ward Hunt, the area’s largest shelf.
The fate of the vast ice blocks is seen as a key indicator of climate change.
The rapid changes in the Arctic have reignited disputes over territory.
The Canadian military’s expedition was billed as a “sovereignty patrol”, the lines of snowmobiles flying Canadian flags in a display of control.
After the record Arctic melting last year, all eyes are now on what happens to the sea ice this summer.
Although its maximum extent last winter was slightly greater than the year before, it was still below the long-term average.

April 2008
Mining Environmental Management Magazine
See Felix von Geyer & Simon D. Handlesman on mineral exploration in the Arctic and Antarctic “Poles Apart” pp 12-15
March 10, 2008
(The Guardian) As climate change opens Arctic, new conflicts on horizon
International conflicts over energy resources are likely to worsen in the future, the European Union has been told. For example, various governments are laying claims to the mineral riches in the Arctic, which is beginning to be more accessible due to global warming. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana wrote a report ahead of a summit this week that foresees conflicts with Russia over the Arctic.
(Newsday, Long Island, N.Y.)Editorial: U.S. overdue to join UN’s sea treaty
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a treaty approved by the world body in 1982 to protect the oceans, is again up for consideration by the U.S. Senate. It is very much in the U.S.’ interest to join the international community and sign the treaty, Newsday writes in this editorial.

Scott G. Borgerson: Arctic Meltdown
(Foreign Affairs , March/April 2008)
Summary

Thanks to global warming, the Arctic icecap is rapidly melting, opening up access to massive natural resources and creating shipping shortcuts that could save billions of dollars a year. But there are currently no clear rules governing this economically and strategically vital region. Unless Washington leads the way toward a multilateral diplomatic solution, the Arctic could descend into armed conflict.

… The ideal way to manage the Arctic would be to develop an overarching treaty that guarantees an orderly and collective approach to extracting the region’s wealth. As part of the ongoing International Polar Year (a large scientific program focused on the Arctic and the Antarctic that is set to run until March 2009), the United States should convene a conference to draft a new accord based on the framework of the Arctic Council. The agreement should incorporate relevant provisions of UNCLOS and take into account all of the key emerging Arctic issues. The few in the United States who still stubbornly oppose U.S. accession to UNCLOS claim that by ratifying the treaty Washington would cede too much U.S. sovereignty and that customary international law and a powerful navy already allow the United States to protect its Arctic interests. But these are not enough. The United States is the only major country that has failed to ratify UNCLOS, and Washington is therefore left on the outside looking in as a nonmember to various legal and technical bodies. In addition to becoming a party to the convention, the United States must publish an updated Arctic policy, invest in ice-mapping programs, and breathe new life into its inefficient, uncompetitive shipyards, thus enabling it to update the country’s geriatric icebreaker fleet, as soon as possible.
The United States should also strike a deal with Canada, leading to a joint management effort along the same lines as the 1817 Rush-Bagot Agreement, which demilitarized the Great Lakes and led to the creation (albeit more than a century later) of the nonprofit St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation to manage this critical, and sometimes ice-covered, binational waterway. In the same spirit, the United States and Canada could combine their resources to help police thousands of miles of Arctic coastline …  it is in both countries’ national interests to do so.
There is no reason that economic development and environmental stewardship cannot go hand in hand. To this end, Canada could take the lead in establishing an analogous public-private Arctic seaway management corporation with a mandate to provide for the safe and secure transit of vessels in North American Arctic waters while protecting the area’s sensitive environment. … Such a jointly managed Arctic seaway system could establish facilities for the disposal of solid and liquid waste, identify harbors of refuge for ships in danger, and enforce a more rigorous code for ship design in order to ensure that vessels traveling through the Northwest Passage have thicker hulls, more powerful engines, and special navigation equipment. This bilateral arrangement could eventually be expanded to include other Arctic countries, especially Russia. The United States and Russia, as an extension of the proposed Arctic seaway management corporation, could develop traffic-separation schemes through the Bering Strait and further invest in the responsible development of safe shipping along the Northern Sea Route. Eventually, a pan-Arctic corporation could coordinate the safe, secure, and efficient movement of vessels across the Arctic. Japan, which is vitally dependent on the Strait of Malacca for the overwhelming majority of its energy supplies, would be a natural investor in such a project since it has an interest in limiting the risk of a disruption in its oil supply.
…  the time has come for Washington to get over its isolationist instincts and ratify UNCLOS, cooperate with Canada on managing the Northwest Passage, and propose an imaginative new multilateral Arctic treaty.
Washington must awaken to the broader economic and security implications of climate change. The melting Arctic is the proverbial canary in the coal mine of planetary health and a harbinger of how the warming planet will profoundly affect U.S. national security. Being green is no longer a slogan just for Greenpeace supporters and campus activists; foreign policy hawks must also view the environment as part of the national security calculus. Self-preservation in the face of massive climatic change requires an enlightened, humble, and strategic response. Both liberals and conservatives in the United States must move beyond the tired debate over causation and get on with the important work of mitigation and adaptation by managing the consequences of the great melt.
February 28, 2008
(National Post)…  therefore approximately half of the Arctic Ocean is its rightful inheritance. The UN commission that is reviewing the claim sent Russia back to gather additional geological proof, leading Artur Chilingarov, a celebrated Soviet-era explorer and now a close confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin, to declare, “The Arctic is ours and we should manifest our presence” while leading a mission to the North Pole last summer.
Arctic debate could result in armed conflict: analysis
Peter O’Neil, Europe Correspondent, Canwest News Service
PARIS — The fast-warming Arctic could be plunged into “armed conflict” unless the U.S. takes the lead in resolving rival claims by the U.S., Canada, Russia, Denmark and Norway over a region that could create billions of dollars in new wealth as the ice cap melts, according to new analysis. Former U.S. Coast Guard Lt.-Cmdr. Scott Borgerson, in the latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine,(Editor’s note: correction –
it is in Foreign Affairs) argued that Washington has to start with a Canada-U.S. agreement on how the Arctic should be regulated as global warming opens northern sea lanes. He also called on American leaders to take seriously Canada’s sovereignty claims over the Northwest Passage.
Territorial disputes and the lack of regulations pose “grave dangers” that could “eventually lead to armed brinkmanship” involving not only countries staking claims, but also energy-hungry newcomers eying the north, such as China, he wrote.

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