United Nations Environment Programme
Key Polar Centre
«Climate change is impacting biodiversity at a global and unprecedented scale.
The Arctic region is hit particularly hard. It is already warming 2 to 2.5 times faster than the global average, due to a thinner atmosphere and several positive feedback responses.
Changes in the Arctic will have major repercussions for all other global regions through changes in the hydrological cycle, the weather cycle, the carbon cycle or atmospheric changes, but also by impacting its unique biodiversity.
Many Arctic species are migratory, connecting the entire globe by their annual migration routes of billions of migratory birds, marine mammals and fish.
The changes in the Arctic region will determine the future of its major wealth in ecosystem goods and services, mostly its natural resources, marine and freshwater fish and terrestrial reindeer. They all provide vital income for the peoples of the North and to a large extent to the global community as a whole.
Its unique location in still largely pristine wilderness and little direct human impacts allow the Arctic region for monitoring the impact of climate change and industrial development on biodiversity in a less complex ecosystem, providing us with an early warning system of what is likely to happen to our near future.
Arctic biodiversity and ecosystems are an ideal test case for measuring progress towards the Convention on Biological Diversity's 2010 target to significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010, a barometer for the state of biodiversity.
The Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program is part of the International Polar Year initiative, which creates a huge scientific focus on the Polar regions, generating the attention to the vulnerable status of both poles. More than 100 projects focus on the Arctic region.
Arctic biodiversity is more than just the Polar Bear. This charismatic Arctic predator has been the focus of the media, rightly reporting on the sombre destiny of the largest predator on Earth. It will suffer severely if the sea ice continues to disappear in many areas of the Arctic. But little has been mentioned on the fate of other Arctic species, namely the following four.
● The charismatic, solely Arctic Ivory Gull pagophila eburnea is living entirely in High Arctic marine seas, closely associated with the Polar Bear, which it follows, scavenging on leftovers on the ice edge. Its entire life cycle is intimately linked with sea ice and the rare gull is potentially severely threatened by the disappearance of the sea ice.
● The Reindeer and Caribou rangifer tarandus are the most dominant large mammal species in the Arctic, living in every Arctic country, mostly in the tundra. They provide the major source of income for many local people in the Arctic, depending highly on the thriving of their huge populations. Climate change may have severe impacts on the future of this valuable element of Arctic ecosystems.
● Polar regions are home to 70% of all global freshwater, most of it stored in the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland, but the Arctic region contains the largest amount of freshwater available for biodiversity. Huge peatlands and tundra wetlands lie in the Arctic region, and Arctic rivers altogether discharge more than 4,600 km3 into the Arctic Ocean every year. Many of them belong to the largest ten rivers on Earth, hardly impacted by dams or any other human impacts, allowing a huge diversity of freshwater fish to thrive in their streams. The Arctic Char salvelinus alpinus is the most northerly distributed freshwater fish and a characteristic representative for this unique biome.
● The large majority of all Arctic vertebrates are migratory. Arctic breeding birds are connected with virtually every corner of the globe – apart from the Antarctic ice sheet – through the annual migration of birds, whales, fish and even reindeer and caribou. The Red Knot calidris canutus is one of the most fascinating globetrotters. In winter the High Arctic breeder can be found in South and West Africa, South America, India, Australia and New Zealand. However, four out of six populations are presently in decline, some sharply, and for two the trend is unknown.
These, like many other population trends from the Arctic regions, are alarming signals of changes in the Arctic ecosystems, which should alert us all. We still do not know the trend for many populations of Arctic biodiversity and we still know far too little as well to fully understand the root causes of these trends.»
Do you still believe never-ending economical growth rates are more important?
I don't! Not anymore!