The dark IPCC climate report: A summary and an interpretation for the Arctic

Climate change is starting its concert and ready to show off. The Arctic is hanging around in the VIP lounge, getting the special treatment. Extra heat and a lot of attention. But unfortunately not more ice cubes in its Mojito.

In 2040, Earth will on average have warmed up with 1,5 degrees Celsius. Both the best and the worst scenario are predicting this. In the worst case scenario in which we keep on increasing our CO2-emissions, our planet will on average be 4.4 degrees Celsius warmer in 2100 compared to 1900. In the best scenario, this can stay around 1.5 degrees. At the moment the Earth is on average 1.1 degrees warmer and the effects are visible already. However the Arctic already warmed up more than 2 degrees Celsius, Spitsbergen even around 3 degrees. It’s getting hot in here.

The IPCC report
Today, the first part of the sixth assessment report of the IPCC was published. It is a massive report that covers the physical aspects (atmosphere, ocean, land) behind climate change. The most important messages: climate change is there already and it is getting worse. In previous reports, they warned for climate change. Now they have to state that is has arrived. The UN Environmental Programme director said the following thing: “You [IPCC] have been telling us for over three decades of the dangers of allowing the planet to warm. The world listened, but it didn’t hear. The world listened, but did not act strong enough. As a result, climate change is a problem that is here, now.”

Report on the Arctic
The report of IPCC can be read as a full report (very long), as a summary for policy makers (much shorter) and as a summary of the summary of policy makers (very short), but it can also be read just for specific regions. Those “regional fact sheets” exist for 11 regions and are worth reading. As an Arctic reporter I looked – of course – in the fact sheet “Polar regions”. Some quotes and some comments:

  • “It is very likely that the Arctic has warmed at more than twice the global rate over the past 50 years (…)”
    Whereas the world has warmed up on average with 1.1 degrees Celsius, the Arctic warmed up at least twice as much, a phenomenon called Arctic Amplification. Here in Ny-Ålesund, the average temperatures increased by 1.4 degrees Kelvin per decade measured between 1995 and 2015, making it already around 3 degrees Kelvin warmer than back in 1995. In this interactive graph you can play around a bit.

  • “… minimum temperatures have increased at about three times the global rate.”
    This means that winter temperatures are rising even faster than average temperatures. Between 1995 and 2015, winter temperatures in Ny-Ålesund increased with 3.1 degrees Kelvin per decade, meaning that in 2015 wintertimes were already more than 6 degrees warmer than back in 1995.

  • “Extreme heat events have increased around the Arctic since 1979.”
    We had a pool party last weekend in Ny-Ålesund. Last year people organized a pool party in Ny-Ålesund. You can never say whether this one hot day that you experience is due to climate change (it could have been this rare hot day that would otherwise happen every 20 years or so), but the chance that it is due to climate change, is getting higher and higher. Additionally, forest fires are non stopping in Siberia, Canada is burning too.

  • “Permafrost warming and thawing have been widespread in the Arctic since the 1980s, and there is high confidence in future permafrost warming, decreasing permafrost extent with increased risk of hazardous impacts, including carbon release.”
    Jep, that’s a problem. A lot of methane is saved in the permafrost and methane is a stronger greenhouse gas than CO2. Permafrost thawing would release both CO2 and methane and is considered to be one of the tipping points in the climate system. This means that “a changing climate could push parts of the Earth system into abrupt or irreversible change.” If we reach that point, there is no way back (at least not on a human timescale).

  • “Here is high confidence that glaciers have lost mass in all polar regions since 2000 and will continue to lose mass at least for several decades, even if global temperature is stabilized.”
    Glaciers are melting and we are seeing it over here. Tip: Go to TopoSvalbard and click on the right mouse key. Go to a glacier and zoom in. The zoomed-out aerial pictures on TopoSvalbard are more recent ones, the zoomed-in ones are older. By zooming in and out, you can thus see differences. Unfortunately I don’t know the dating of those pictures, but the changes in the glaciers are massive.
Recent picture of the Kronebreen glacier (left), older picture of the Kronebreen glacier (right). Unfortunately, I do not know the years in which the photos were taken
  • “The observed increase in relative sea level rise is virtually certain to continue in the Arctic (other than Northeastern Canada and west coast of Greenland) contributing to more frequent and severe coastal flooding and shoreline retreat along sandy coasts.”
    So the sea level is rising. The slogan of Extinction Rebellion “Like the sea we rise” is quite nice and fitting. Let’s do that.

  • “Current Arctic sea ice cover (both annual and late summer) is at its lowest level since at least 1850 (high confidence) and is projected to reach practically ice-free conditions at its summer minimum at least once before 2050 under all scenarios.”
    Before 2050 there will already be a summer without any sea ice. No sea ice means a loss of habitat for Arctic animals, thus big changes in the ecosystem. Also, Homo sapiens might think that it is a nice move to use the ice-free summer Arctic as a shorter route for shipping products that we don’t need, which might ruin one the few (relatively) pristine areas on this planet.

So yes. We should do something. “Like the sea we rise!” Go to demonstrations, get political influence, change your own behaviour and try to inspire others. But remember: don’t blame each other personal behaviour. If somebody is in politics and is making bad decisions, it is probably okay to blame, since this person is acting on an institutional level. But blaming each others personal comsumption is toxic, creates devision and is not the way to go. Don’t blame the rest and don’t pretend you know better. Let’s be kind and try to help and inspire each other.

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