Arctic Council at UNFCCC COP-23: The Global Implications of a Rapidly-Changing Arctic

The Arctic Council hosted an event titled, “The Global Implications of a Rapidly-Changing Arctic,” at the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany on November 6, 2017.


The UNFCCC is the international environmental platform for negotiations on climate change, and has previously been the catalyst for landmark meetings that led to the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement. Approximately each year the COP hosts an event to assess progress on climate change, and various organizations hold side events to inform policymakers about specific areas related to their negotiations. This was the first time the Arctic Council has hosted an event at a UNFCCC COP, and their panel focused on the scientific realities and the adaptation needs of the region.


Sea ice is melting faster than ever, and global temperatures are rising at more pronounced levels in the Arctic. Scientists Petteri Taalas, Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization, David Barber, Professor at the University of Manitoba, Canada, and Paul Wassmann, Researcher at the University of Tromsø, Norway, outlined the scientific case of a rapidly changing Arctic. The facts in their presentations drew similar scientific conclusions from previous events, but added a few extra wrinkles to the conversation.


Mr. Taalas described how an average world temperature increase of 1-degree centigrade will result in a net positive increase in GDP per capita in northern latitudes, whereas mid and southern latitudes will experience net negative GDP growth. Northern latitudes may be able to take advantage of new trade routes, but communities in mid and southern latitudes could incur increased adaptation costs because of sea level rise. In answering a question about effective communication methods between scientists and politicians, Mr. Barber told the audience the scientific community should talk less about tipping points in the region, and more about encouraging the next generation to get involved, while organizing civil society groups around the implications of Arctic change. It will take a collective effort to meet the goals in the Paris Agreement, but even its modest guidelines will be unable to reverse the Arctic’s steady warming according to the panelists. Instead, they believe policymakers should work closer with Arctic communities to develop and implement adaptation strategies in this new climate reality.


The Arctic Council’s discussion also sought to reemphasize the human element of climate change in the Arctic. Okalik Eegeesiak, Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, explained the implications of rapid sea ice melt were once captured by the face of a polar bear, but now must include the human faces in the region. “Cultural diversity is just as important as biological diversity,” Ms. Eegeesiak stressed. The new economic opportunities presented by the region’s changes increase socioeconomic variability, but also provide an opportunity for policymakers to utilize local human capital to develop the region under UNFCCC principles. Free, prior, and informed consent will ensure the sovereignty, knowledge, and rights of Arctic inhabitants are protected.


The event’s mix of science, adaptation, and human-related implications intended to show the Arctic is more than just a case study for climate change effects. The panelists agreed the world has been alerted to climate change, but more needs to be done to safeguard the vulnerable communities and environments around the world that will face this new reality. Side events like these can help guide COP participants toward realizing the goals of climate change negotiations, especially in the Arctic context.


The COP-23 meetings run November 6-17, 2017, and more information can be found here:



René Söderman, Senior Arctic Official for Finland

Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General, World Meteorological Organization

David Barber, University of Manitoba, Canada

Paul Wassmann, University of Tromsø, Norway

Monica Tennberg, University of Lapland, Finland

Jason Box, National Geological Survey of Greenland and Denmark

Okalik Eegeesiak, Chair, Inuit Circumpolar Council


Moderator: Morten Olsen