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Duane Smith, Inuit Circumpolar Conference, Canada
"Some of our communities are eroding into the ocean in front of our eyes because of the decrease in the multi-layered ice, which is allowing for larger storms to roll in."

Aqqaluk Lynge, leader of Greenlandís Inuit population
“The Inuit are experiencing first-hand the adverse effects of climate change. We are on the front line of globalisation… Climate change is not just a theory to us in the Arctic, it is a stark and dangerous reality.”

Climate change

“The Arctic is the barometer of the globe’s environmental health. You can take the pulse of the world in the Arctic. Inuit, the people who live farther north than anyone else, are the canary in the global coal mine.”
Aqqaluk Lynge, leader of Greenland’s Inuit population and former president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, extract from submission to the Stansted airport inquiry, The Independent 30 May 2007.

The Changing Climate
What are the impacts of global warming?
Impacts on the Arctic
Examples of changes

climate change

The changing climate The climate on Earth is changing, with global temperatures now rising at an unprecedented rate in the history of modern society. While some historical changes in the climate can be accounted for by natural causes (such as volcanic eruptions or changes in solar output) the rapid rise in global temperatures over the past few decades is most likely due to man-made greenhouse gas emissions (IPCC 2007). These greenhouse gases (primarily carbon dioxide and methane) are released during the burning of fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas) and the destruction of rain forests.
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climate change

What are the impacts of global warming? Over the next 100 years global temperatures are likely to rise by 1.8oC and 4oC (IPCC 2007). This will be accompanied by a change in global ocean and atmospheric circulation patterns, sea level rise and variations in precipitation. Such changes will affect human life in many ways. Many people live in coastal communities which will disappear as sea levels rise, resulting in an increase in refugees. Ecosystems and flora and fauna populations will be severely affected, many species altering their range or becoming extinct. There will be impacts on water resources, with increased drought in many areas and increased flooding in others.
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climate change

Impacts on the Arctic The Arctic is experiencing some of the most rapid and extreme changes in climate on Earth. Arctic average temperatures have already risen at almost twice the rate of the rest of the world over the past century (IPCC 2007) and this is likely to be up to 3 times the global temperature rise over the next 100 years. In Alaska and western Canada the winter temperatures have increased by 3-4oC in the past 50 years. Climate change in the Arctic is an indicator of the planet’s health.
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climate change

Examples of changes include: • The annual average sea-ice extent has decreased and late-summer sea ice in the Arctic may disappear entirely by the end of the 21st century (IPCC 2007).
• Reduction in the extent and stability of sea ice reduces the habitat for many marine species, such as walrus, polar bears and ice-dependent seals, pushing many towards the brink of extinction.
• There has been an increase in melting of the Greenland ice sheet and Arctic glaciers.
• The reduction in reflective snow and ice cover reveals darker land and sea surfaces which absorb heat from the sun, thereby enhancing global warming.
• The warming climate is already causing a thawing of permafrost with an increase in temperature of up to 3oC in the top of the permafrost layer (IPCC 2007).
• Thawing permafrost leads to a weakening of land and a destabilization of buildings, roads, airports and industrial facilities and an increased risk of landslides and landscape erosion.
• The Mackenzie Delta, especially around Inuvik, is low-lying and has an unsolidified coast line, rendering it vulnerable to rising sea levels and increased storm surges.
• The boreal forests of the south are encroaching on the arctic tundra environment, greatly reducing the breeding grounds for many arctic birds and grazing for animals such as caribou.
• Disease and pest distribution is expanding, with an increase in diseases such as the West Nile virus.
• Many Inuit communities depend on hunting polar bear, walrus, seals, caribou and fishing. Changes in these species availability and accessibility will have severe impacts on these people’s way of life.

The changes already taking place in the Arctic are an early warning signal for the rest of the world of the potential environmental and social impacts of global climate change. As Aqqaluk Lynge, leader of Greenland’s Inuit population, comments: “The serious consequences affecting my people today will affect your people tomorrow.” Urgent attention from decision makers and the public worldwide is required to reduce our global carbon emissions ensuring a sustainable future for the indigenous peoples of the Arctic and the rest of the world.
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