As the world is becoming less likely to meet the targets set out in the Paris Agreement, a new discussion is emerging. The outreach event on November 21 at the Finnish Ambassador’s Residence in London brought together 60 guests from universities, research institutions, Embassies, and the UK Government to hear more about the importance of solutions-driven research for the Arctic considering research excellence, funding, and international collaboration.
As the Ambassador of Finland Jukka Siukosaari stated in the welcoming words, we are rapidly approaching the point of no return. Tore Hattrem, Norway’s Ambassador to the UK, emphasized that to address the urgent situation in the Arctic, we need solutions-driven approaches and shift our focus towards action and tangible scientific results. Enhancing human capacity in the North and driving excellence in Arctic research is vital. Another critical aspect is widening the Arctic knowledge and discussion, as the Swedish Ambassador Stefan Gullgren pointed out. The challenges we face are not limited to the Arctic, so the solutions and the responsibility must also be global.
After this setting of the scene, the event kicked off with the first keynote by John Moore, Research Professor at the Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland in Finland. He described the current situation as a “desperate attempt”: a two-degree increase in global temperatures is too high, and we cannot negotiate the melting point of ice. Moore referred to the 2018 special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), according to which the world will likely cross the 1.5-degree threshold no matter what. “There are no good solutions left on the table,” he warned. There is still potential to explore active solutions, such as climate interventions to slow down or halt the melting of the cryosphere. Still, they are often considered controversial or taboo.
UArctic President Lars Kullerud emphasizes that climate interventions should never replace the reduction of global emissions which is still the only sustainable pathway for a long-term livable future. Some interventions may be useful to delay, or even avoid, some of the irreversible tipping points that can lead to unmanageable consequences. In his keynote at the event, Kullerud suggested that UArctic could become the go-to place for knowledge on proposals for halting tipping points in the cold regions. These solutions might buy the world more time. More than 100 research institutions do research in the Arctic, but more efficiency is needed. They constitute only 0.3 % of global research and only gain 1% of private funding. Echoing the Norwegian Ambassador, Kullerud opined that we need to invest more in finding and investigating the solutions, not just describing them but also getting rid of the taboo around them. We must evaluate the proposed solutions to determine which ones are worth pursuing and which to scrap.
In October, UArctic issued the most complete overview of all proposed interventions to slow down, halt, and reverse the effects of climate change in the Arctic and northern regions. Humanity seems unable to do what it takes to meet the Paris Agreement commitments on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and the 61 crazy – or creative – ideas in the report illustrate desperate responses to this fact. “These proposals may be seen as the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Some will have intolerable side effects, most are immature, and all require deeper evaluation to be discarded or promoted for urgent research.”
Overshooting the IPCC global temperature targets is virtually inevitable, meaning that the world will cross several climate tipping points in the coming years and decades, many with devastating consequences. The cold parts of the planet contain most of the tipping points, but their impacts will be global. How can countries in the North act locally to stop, reduce impacts, or delay the passing of such tipping points? This was the question that UArctic Secretary General Outi Snellman, the moderator of the event, posed to the panelists: Åsa Larsson Blind, Vice-President of the Saami Council; Shaun Fitzgerald, Director of Studies, and Director of the Climate Repair Centre of Cambridge University; Keith Larson, Director of the Arctic Centre of Umeå University; and Anni Pokela, a student at the University of Helsinki and member of the Operaatio Arktis youth climate project.
According to Keith Larson, global climate models that inform political decisions do not consider Arctic climate feedbacks. Even if we stop GHG emissions, these feedback mechanisms will still heat the planet for a long time. Nevertheless, as Åsa Larsson Blind argued, eliminating the emissions is critical. It is also including Indigenous peoples in the decision-making processes. “Any action is a double burden on Indigenous peoples,” she reminded the audience. “We need to cope with the consequences in addition to the interventions. And who gets to decide? Indigenous peoples are still not part of the discussions and the prioritization of what to do.” Larsson Blind also stated that all processes and difficult decisions must include Indigenous peoples from the very beginning, emphasizing the need for free, prior, and informed consent, not just their involvement somewhere along the way. “Without that, we have no other choice than to say no.”
Anni Pokela emphasized the urgent need for a global, unified front. “If we want to prevent catastrophic collapse, we need to convene on the already underway catastrophes. All countries must be on the same page on stopping glaciers from melting. Otherwise, the North will melt, and the South will become a desert. Which countries will take the lead?” As part of the generation who will face the consequences of the climate crisis, Pokela expressed her valid concerns. “There is a lack of understanding of the urgency. If this is not an emergency, then what is?" No country has included avoiding tipping points as part of their climate strategies, she pointed out, and a climate paradigm shift is necessary. "We will not accept that damage is unavoidable, but we are out of easy options. We don’t have to do geoengineering, but if we want to avoid massive damage and deaths, we need more measures. My generation is not ready to accept the damage.”
Shaun Fitzgerald pointed out that the IPCC has not considered any interventions, only the emissions. Stopping GHG emissions is the priority, and removing GHG from the atmosphere is the second. In that context, climate interventions are more like a band-aid, as Fitzgerald described them. Still, they are likely a necessary band-aid while the temperatures continue to rise due to the climate feedback mechanisms. Nevertheless, interventions are still a path that needs to be tread carefully. “We might be too eager to experiment with nature in an irreversible way,” Larsson Blind cautioned. “Scientists should continue to present solutions, but I am skeptical about decision-makers doing the right thing.”
Despite the debate, the panel concluded more positively regarding climate interventions. “The important thing is that we are now talking about them,” Larsson Blind said. “No governmental bodies are having these discussions yet. We need a nuanced discussion on what we want moving forward. We need a transformative change in the society.” As Pokela summarized her feelings, “Interventions are about not giving up. Continuing to hope for emission cuts to be in time and sufficient – that’s giving up.”