Energy and Environment Program

Statement on Arctic Climate Change

The Arctic functions as a cooling system for the planet. The rapid and profound changes underway in the Arctic as a result of global climate change jeopardize the well-being of the earth. We have an unprecedented opportunity to safeguard the welfare of current and future generations. In this spirit, the Aspen Commission on Arctic Climate Change urgently calls on the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to move boldly towards mitigation targets that protect the Arctic.

To achieve this, the world community must set greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets that (1) ensure ice extent necessary for the Arctic to function effectively as a global cooling system; (2) avert the release of GHGs locked in permafrost, boreal forests and the sea-bed; and (3) avoid rapid melting of the Greenland ice sheet which would result in damaging sea-level rise around the world. Current mitigation targets do not guard against triggering feedback loops such as the release of methane and other greenhouse gases that could be added to the atmosphere if the Arctic continues to melt.

The Arctic is home to 4 million people including 30 different Indigenous Peoples whose cultures are intrinsically tied to the natural environment. Average Arctic atmospheric temperature rise is more than double the global average trend, and is already dangerous to Arctic residents, particularly Indigenous Peoples. The international community has the responsibility to protect their health, safety and fundamental human rights.

In addition, we call on the world community, and in particular the eight Arctic governments, to work together to promote global action to reduce GHG emissions, including fast-track mitigation measures. Actions should include stringent reductions of black carbon emissions, and establishment of a comprehensive observation network capable of monitoring the state of the Arctic cooling system.

Sea ice, which reflects more than 80% of solar radiation back into space, has rapidly declined -- 50 years ahead of IPCC projections. This loss of ice impedes the Arctic Ocean’s ability to cool the entire planet. Ocean acidification, another effect of increased carbon dioxide, is changing the chemistry of the ocean; this change, amplified in coldwater polar regions, threatens sea life throughout the Arctic.

Changes in the Arctic will have consequences for the rest of the globe. Glacial ice melt in the Arctic exacerbates sea level rise. Arctic atmospheric warming and the potential release of greenhouse gases from land and the seabed could impede efforts to mitigate GHG emissions. Finally, stability of ocean circulation systems and biological productivity in the region and globally are at risk. As such, it is in the global interests of all nations to safeguard the Arctic. We must act now.

Issued July 23, 2009*

* Note: Only those current members of the Aspen Commission on Arctic Climate Change whose names appear
here endorse this statement.

Prince Albert II of Monaco
Sovereign Prince of Monaco

Lloyd Axworthy
President and Vice Chancellor
University of Winnipeg

Frances Beinecke
Natural Resources Defense Council

Patricia Cochran
Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change

Sylvia Earle
Oceanographer, Explorer in Residence
National Geographic Society

James Leape
Director General
World Wildlife Fund – International

Sven Lindblad
Founder and President
Lindblad Expeditions

Thomas Lovejoy
Biodiversity Chair
The Heinz Center

Fran Ulmer
University of Alaska Anchorage

Sheila Watt-Cloutier
Inuit Advocate