Analysis & Opinions - The Hill

Climate Change is Rapidly Transforming the Arctic: Why Everybody Should Care

| June 09, 2021

The part of Earth's surface lying north of the Arctic Circle encompasses an area of 7.7 million square miles, of which 70 percent is open or ice-covered ocean. Only eight nations possess territory or territorial waters in this region: the United States (because of Alaska), Canada, Russia, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Denmark (because of Greenland). A mere 4 million people inhabit the Arctic. Indigenous people make up about 10 percent of the total, spread across two dozen ethnolinguistic groups (e.g., Inuit, Aleut, Saami).

Beyond its value to the people who live there, however, the Arctic has long been recognized as having considerable importance beyond the region. It is significant militarily, because of the Arctic's location, linking all of the world's northern land masses. It's also significant economically for its oil, gas, strategic metals, and ocean fisheries; and it's prized around the world, even by people who will never see it in person, for its spectacular landscapes and wildlife.

For the last couple of decades, though, climate change has been transforming practically everything about the Arctic that matters to people both inside and outside of the region. That's because the Arctic as a whole has been warming two to three times faster than the rest of the world. The accumulating effects of this extreme warming are now manifesting themselves in a multiplicity of ways, some of them creating new economic opportunities, but practically all of them creating major physical, socioeconomic and management challenges for the region. And, of greatest importance for rest of the world, the rapid pace of climate change in the Arctic is influencing the pace and impacts of climate change elsewhere.  It even threatens to undermine the ability of society's emissions reductions to stop warming worldwide at a level that avoids wholly unmanageable consequences....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Holdren, John P.“Climate Change is Rapidly Transforming the Arctic: Why Everybody Should Care.” The Hill, June 9, 2021.

The Author

John P. Holdren