The 2015 Paris climate summit fails to address Arctic challenges, critics say. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Arctic regions neglected in climate negotiations

The rapid changes in the Arctic have long been the key evidence of climate change and are identified as an area where significant adaptation to the new climate will be necessary. Yet the Arctic region is largely neglected on the international climate agenda and the upcoming conference in Paris (COP21).
November 26, 2015

Warming in the Arctic occurs at a significantly higher rate than the global average, which is explained by the melting ices causing a reduced albedo effect and by consequence warms up the ocean. Thawing permafrost is already a serious problem, not only for the affected communities but also since it releases additional greenhouse gases which further amplifies the global warming. Moreover, the climatic changes threaten the lifestyle of many indigenous peoples in the northern regions.

The Arctic countries have recently given increasing attention to the threat of climate change in the region. The United States has highlighted the issue as a key priority during its chairmanship of the Arctic Council and President Obama brought further attention to climate change in the Arctic by his visit to Alaska earlier this year.  Similarly, the Nordic countries recently adopted a joint declaration that underlined the severe implications in the Arctic and called for an ambitious agreement at the conference in Paris.  Russia also declared that it will take measures to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions in the industry sector in the coming years.

Yet, despite the increasing awareness in the Arctic states, the region has received very little attention in the international climate negotiations, reports High North News. The negotiated draft agreement for the COP21 does not mention the Arctic and, rather than being addressed in the adaptation and mitigation commitments, the region primarily figures as a scientific proof of the ongoing climate change.

Sébastien Duyck, a PhD candidate at the University of Lapland, confirms the lack of attention to the Arctic in the UNFCCC climate regime and further explores the underlying causes for this development in an article published in October.

The absence of references to the region in the negotiated texts is explained by the very nature of the agreement. Firstly, the global scope prevents the agreement from referring to specific regions and secondly, the differentiation between developing and developed states has up until now meant that the international adaptation commitments are reserved for developing countries, whereas the Arctic states (which are all developed states) are expected to address adaptation needs in their domestic policies. Moreover, the Arctic Council has taken on a key role for addressing Arctic issues.

Duyck notices that the Arctic is not only absent in the legal texts but the representation of Arctic stakeholders is also very limited in the climate negotiations. While the Arctic states are highlighting the climatic vulnerability of the region, they rarely ever mention the Arctic in their negotiating positions. The lack of Arctic input is further amplified as the Arctic Council is not an accredited observer to the UNFCCC and some of its members have objected to any participation in negotiation process.

Indigenous people in the Arctic have been recognised as having a central role in the regional environmental governance and participate in the international climate negotiations, however indigenous groups have struggled to gain the same level of confidence as scientists when communicating their message.

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With this background, the Arctic is unlikely to be specifically addressed in the upcoming climate talks in Paris next week and the commitments made are also not sufficient to prevent the irreversible climate change in the region. However, Duyck argues that the new universal approach might improve the opportunities for sharing good practices and cooperating on climate change adaptation and the upcoming meeting could also raise the awareness of the financial risks of exploiting fossil resources in the Arctic. 

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