22 December 2016

Can the Arctic be saved? Major conference on Arctic futures

What is at stake in the Arctic? Researchers in Mistra Arctic Sustainable Development and the Stockholm Resilience Centre presented an ambitious report on the future of the Arctic during a conference in November.

On 25 November, researchers met to discuss the future of the Arctic. Together, they presented the conclusions from an ambitious report issued by the Arctic Council. It was the final conference on the Arctic Resilience Report that was held in Stockholm and gathered experts, industrial representatives and politicians.

People on the spot included Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Centre; Annika Nilsson of Mistra Arctic Sustainable Development; and Karolina Skog, Minister for the Environment. The conference moderator was Johan Kuylenstierna, Director of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).

The Arctic Resilience Report is the outcome of five years’ efforts. The work was headed by researchers from the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and Stockholm Resilience Centre, but also included numerous other researchers and principals. Together, from various points of view, they have analysed how vulnerable the Arctic is and how climate change there affects not only species, geography and people in the region but the entire planet.

Negative and positive factors

Sarah Cornell of the Stockholm Resilience Centre is among those who were actively engaged in producing the report. She too was present during the conference.

‘We’ve tried to understand the changes in the Arctic in terms of critical tipping points. But we’ve also found factors that underpin resilience, and identified options that strengthen the region’s capacity to adjust,’ she says.

The report states that the changes under way in the Arctic are due primarily to external factors. The most powerful driver is climate change, which is taking place more rapidly in the polar regions than in the rest of the planet.

Other environmental changes, too, are occurring because of the rapid social and economic development in the region. Cornell refers to driving forces that appear to be self-generating.

‘The fact is that Arctic social and ecological systems are being exposed to several stress factors simultaneously.’

Shared responsibility for Arctic necessary

Sarah Cornell sees an ambivalence in discussions on the future of the Arctic. The same countries that regard climate change with great anxiety see opportunities for increased shipping and oil extraction — activities that, to them, very much offset the negative trends.

‘One of the most important conclusions in the report, which everyone agrees about, is the need for shared responsibility for the future of the Arctic,’ she says.

The report was initiated during the former Swedish Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, but its conclusions and results are continuing to exert influence under the US Chairmanship. During 2017, follow-up conferences on the same theme are planned in both Sweden and the US.

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