Arctic Warming: Environmental, Human, and Security Implications

By West, Mary Beth | Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, October 2009 | Go to article overview

Arctic Warming: Environmental, Human, and Security Implications


West, Mary Beth, Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


ABSTRACT

Arctic warming has myriad implications for the Arctic environment, residents, and nations. Although definitive predictions are difficult, without question the scope and rapidity of change will test the adaptive capacities of the Arctic environment as well as its residents. Warming is affecting marine ecosystems and marine life, terrestrial ecosystems, and the animals and people who depend on them. Human impacts include effects on access to food and resources; health and wellbeing; and community cohesion, traditions, and culture. Increased shipping and resource activity create the need for additional maritime presence and security; better environmental and safety regulations; peaceful resolution of boundary disputes and jurisdictional issues; and increased homeland security, law enforcement, immigration, public health, and related activities. The response to many of these challenges must be international and cooperative, should involve indigenous voices, and can be accomplished within existing legal and institutional frameworks by strengthening institutions and developing legally binding measures in several specific areas such as the regulation of shipping, oil and gas activity, and fishing for the purposes of safety, security, and ecosystem protection.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  I.    INTRODUCTION

 II.    ENVIRONMENTAL IMPLICATIONS
        A. Melting Ice and Sea Level Rise
        B. Changes in Weather and Precipitation
        C. Thawing Permafrost
        D. Arctic Freshwater Systems
        E. Terrestrial Ecosystems: Forests and Farms
        F. Flora and Fauna

III.    HUMAN IMPLICATIONS
        A. Access to Food and Resources
        B. Health
        C. Community Cohesion, Traditions, and
           Culture
        D. Importance of Indigenous Wisdom
        E. Case Study: Indigenous Perspectives from
           Kotzebue, Alaska

 IV.    IMPLICATIONS FOR NATIONAL SECURITY
        A. Marine and Territorial Security
        B. Energy Security
        C. Environmental and Human Security

  V.    LEGAL AND INSTITUTIONAL ISSUES
        A. Current Legal and Institutional Framework
        B. Need for New Arrangements or Agreements

 IV.    CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

Arctic warming in the Arctic is having and will continue to have myriad implications for the Arctic environment, residents, and nations. Changes may be both negative and positive. The complexity of interacting factors affecting the Arctic and the fact that much is still unknown about the operation of climate and environmental systems in the region make definitive predictions difficult. Without question, however, the rapid change brought about by warming will test the adaptive capacities of both the Arctic environment and its residents, communities, and nations. This Article contains a general description of the types of expected effects on the Arctic environment, the social and economic well-being of its people, and the security of Arctic nations.

II. ENVIRONMENTAL IMPLICATIONS

During the twentieth century, air temperatures over Arctic land areas increased by up to 5[degrees]C. (1) According to the Arctic Council's 2004 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), (2) during the twenty-first century, under a moderate emissions scenario, average annual temperatures in Alaska and western Canada are expected to rise by 3-5[degrees]C (5-9[degrees]F) over land and up to 7[degrees]C (13[degrees]F) over the oceans. (3) Winter temperatures are expected to rise even more: 4-7[degrees]C (7-13[degrees]F) over land and 7-10[degrees]C (13-18[degrees]F) over the oceans. (4) The more recent 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report (IPCC Report) predicts an averaged warming in the Arctic of 2[degrees]C to about 9[degrees]C by the year 2100. (5) The increase in temperature will have significant effects on the oceans, sea ice, permafrost, forests, freshwater lakes and rivers, and flora and fauna in the region. …

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