Climate change is the challenge of our century
Climate change has impacts on the whole globe and the impacts on Barents region are especially high. It has different kind of impacts in the northern and southern parts of the vast Barents area. In the northernmost regions, the changes are expected to be more pronounced. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the average Arctic temperature has so far been rising at least twice as fast as the global temperature. One reason for this is that the melting ice and snow cover does not reflect back suns radiation so effectively. If the snow cover melts, the revealed dark soil and water absorbs heat and increases the melting. In order to limit the global temperature rise to 2 degrees, significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions need to take place.
For the Barents region, the climate models show increased precipitation and more floods. Temperatures are rising, especially during the winter, and very cold temperatures became scarcer. Big changes in the temperature will get more common. Extreme weather events (such as storms, floods and droughts) are expected to increase globally.
We can already see many signs of the occuring climate change: The ice cover of the Arctic Ocean is constantly becoming smaller, in 2016 the extent of sea ice in the Arctic was record low. The rise of the sea level has been much faster than anticipated and mountain glaciers have shrunk globally, with large regional variations.
Arctic paradox. The melting of the sea ice in the Arctic Ocean gives access for new transport routes and oil and gas reserves. Areas north of the Arctic Circle have large oil and natural gas resources - and usage of them accelerates the climate change making it again easier to access those resources. Opening of North-East Passage is anticipated to provide considerable savings in shipping costs in comparison with present logistics routes. The increased economic activity increases also the pressures and risks for the Arctic environment, such as the probability of a major oil catastrophe. Climate change may also amplify the effects of the industrial pollution - e.g. in the surroundings of the Kola Peninsula nickel smelters in the Barents region.
Changes in the flora and fauna. The area of distribution of species changes with the warming climate. The species that are adapted to northern conditions are likely to suffer as the climate zones move towards north. Palsa mires which contain permanently frozen ice lenses may disappear from northern Finland. The Arctic fox may become endangered since the red fox occupies its breeding grounds. Warm winters can disturb the animals that go into winter torpor or hibernation, e.g. bears. The warming is expected to increase the growth of forests and to favor agriculture, but it is also likely to bring more plant pests and diseases to the northern regions.
Emissions are increasing while they should be decreasing. The Paris 2015 agreement on mitigating climate change is a good start for countries in the fight against climate change. If we want to continue life as we know it, should the rise in temperatures stop at 2 degrees above pre-industrialised era.
Climate change does not only have effects on the nature, but on the societies as whole. Due to droughts and other disturbances to agriculture, the price of the food can get so high that it causes conflicts. Studies predict that climate change may create millions of environmental refugees due to sea level rise, desertification and extreme weather events. The extreme weather can have serious effects on livelihoods and on the infrastructure, causing disturbances in the electricity and water supply as well as in traffic and communications. The Arctic is especially vulnerable for climate change because many of the traditional livelihoods are connected with the nature.