Effects of Climate Change
Climate change will have many effects and some of them can already be seen around the world. Climate change is importand in the Arctic as the changes and effects are clearly visible.
It is estimated that Climate Change will reduce Arctic sea ice significantly, increase shipping activities in the area, change fisheries and ecosystems and increase in oil and gas extraction in the Arctic.
On September 10th 2011, the Arctic sea ice extent was 4.34 million square kilometres (1.68 million square miles). This was 110,000 square kilometres (42,500 square miles) above the 2007 value on the same date, the record minimum Arctic sea ice extent. The extent then was 4.17 million square kilometres (1.61 million square miles).
Although most scientists agree on that the globe is becoming warmer, predictions on how rapidly Arctic ice will retreat often vary greatly amongst them. The schedule is however not as important as the results of this development and the possibility of the ice-free Arctic to become a lucrative shipping route.
For oil and gas, climate change will challenge the petroleum sector in many ways. Offshore oil exploration and production is likely to benefit from less extensive and thinner sea ice, although equipment will likely be costlier as it will be required to withstand increased wave forces and ice movement. In addition, accident and collision insurance, authority for regulation, enforcement and cleanup in management of natural resources and environmental protection will become important issues because final delimitation of Arctic waters is still not firmly settled among Arctic nations. Increased ship access will most likely also raise many destabilizing international issues, which need to be dealt within an appropriate politcal and legal infrastructure.
The opening of Arctic shipping routes will certainly lead to more energy efficient transport of goods. The shipping of goods from Asia to Europe is in fact relatively shorter trough the Arctic than through the Suez-Canal or the Panama-Canal, which in turn means less emissions of CO2.
Arctic marine transportation can therefore be both affected by climate change and influence accelerated global warming. Greenhouse gas emission restrictions will be one of the determinant factors in encouraging Trans-Arctic shipping, along with pressure from industry stakeholders. Changes in Arctic ecosystems with increased environmental awareness can though hold back activities that otherwise would become possible or even feasible due to the reducing sea ice and warmer climate.
Although no legally binding agreement on emission reductions has yet been reached, it must be kept in mind that post-Kyoto protocol is still under consideration in the global climate politics. If an industrial state would only need to restrict emissions for 5-10%, burdensome CO2 emissions would first be tackled in areas where new technology exists and is relatively cheap leaving room for Arctic operations.
Source: Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment 2009