New Horizons in Environmental and Energy Law series
Edited by Tim Stephens and David L. VanderZwaag
Chapter 3: Environmental change in the Arctic region
The influence of human activities on all aspects of the environment is so significant that it represents a new geological epoch known as the Anthropocene. The expansion of fossil fuel use around 1800 makes it possible to track increased carbon dioxide concentrations as an indicator of this transition from the Holocene to the Anthropocene. This new epoch is represented by the growth of human impact on land use, ecosystems, biodiversity, species extinction and atmospheric pollution, to name but a few. Increased human population combined with economic development has given rise to widespread global environmental effects. Certain parts of the world show particularly distinct changes as a result of this transition into the Anthropocene. The Arctic is one such region. The Arctic is extremely vulnerable to predicted climate change and this will have important global and regional ramifications. During the twentieth century air temperatures over Arctic land areas increased by up to 5oC. Arctic Ocean sea ice has both declined in areal extent and thinned. Water flowing north from the Atlantic Ocean has warmed. Spring snow in Eurasia has decreased, as has permafrost. There are a wide range of implications for the Arctic environment and its animals, plants and human inhabitants. These trends have now been widely disseminated to international audiences. For instance, Chapter 15 of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) details impacts of climate change to the Arctic and Antarctic.
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