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Arctic Stewardship: Maintaining Regional Resilience in an Era of Global Change

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 December 2012


That the Arctic is undergoing transformative changes driven in large part by external forces is no longer news. The high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, which are not themselves significant sources of anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) or short-lived climate pollutants (such as black carbon soot), are experiencing effects attributable to climate change that are equal to or greater than those occurring in any of the planet's other large regions. Prominent among these effects are rising surface temperatures, a deepening of the active layer of the permafrost, the collapse of sea ice, increases in the intensity of coastal storm surges made possible by the retreat of sea ice, the accelerated melting of the Greenland ice sheet, and the acidification of marine systems. The deposition of black carbon in the high north alone—almost 60 percent of which is thought to originate in Europe—appears to account for half or more of the increase in temperature occurring in the Arctic. Positive feedback processes, such as lowered albedo (that is, the capacity of Earth's surface to reflect incoming solar radiation back into space) following the melting of ice at sea and snow on land, have the effect of magnifying the impact of these external forces. Nowhere is the challenge of adapting to the impacts of climate change more urgent than in Arctic coastal communities confronted with the need to relocate to avoid physical destruction. And nowhere are the threats to individual species (for example, the polar bear) and whole ecosystems more severe than they are in the Arctic, where biophysical changes are outstripping the capacity of plants and animals to adapt to altered conditions.

Copyright © Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs 2012

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9 For an account of the idea of stewardship from the perspective of the natural sciences, see Chapin, F. Stuart III et al. , “Earth Stewardship: A Strategy for Social-ecological Transformation to Reverse Planetary Degradation,” Journal of Environmental Studies and Science 1 (2011), pp. 4453CrossRefGoogle Scholar. A social science perspective can be found in Griffiths, Franklyn, “Stewardship as Concept and Practice in an Arctic Context,” CyberDialogue, University of Toronto, 2012Google Scholar.

10 Note that what constitutes an actionable harm in one legal or political setting may not be actionable in another.

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24 The UNHDI, developed by the UN Development Programme during the 1990s, adds measures of longevity and education to GDP per capita in an effort to provide a fuller account of human welfare. See

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27 Downie and Fenge, eds., Northern Lights against POPs.

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