interview by Eleonora Milazzo – ACCEL European Fellow
- Wildlife and vegetation in the Arctic have adapted to a life on ice. How do you assess resilience and adaptation capacity of the Arctic ecosystems?
Climate alteration in the Arctic is more consistent than in the Tropic or at other latitudes. Arctic vegetation and wildlife living in the Arctic have very good adaptation capacity but adaptation requires time, and climate change in the Arctic is occurring too fast. The problem is the rate of climate change, not the absolute value of this change.
In addition, in the Arctic we have various “centres of life”. Each centre of life is different from the others and subject to different impacts of climate change. In some areas, we have vegetation and wildlife and in others none at all. We have to study these different ecosystems to figure out how adaptation is proceeding. Generalizations are not possible.
- Which species are more exposed to negative effects of climate change? What mitigation measures should be taken in the short term? And in the long term?
In the case of polar bears, for example, the main problem is that ice rinks are disappearing too fast and seals, polar bear’s food, suddenly become less accessible. As a result, polar bears tend to move closer to human settlements with serious risks for people living there.
Adaptation in this case means minimizing contact between polar bears and humans. To this aim, WWF is organizing polar bear patrol groups, using rubber bullets to push polar bears away from settlements. Another important thing is ensuring that waste is removed from the settlements as quickly as possible. Remove them and polar bear will not concentrate there. These are simple adaptation measures, but they are very effective.
Walruses are another example. They are very dependent on rockeries and these are changing: coastal ice is melting and wave power is increasing. In case of collapse of rockeries, walruses panic and leave the rockery jumping in the water. As a result, larger males can kill young animals. This also occurs when walruses settle in new rockeries that are on plane trajectories. Adaptation in this case requires good connection with airplane control services.
- Russia is the largest Arctic state. Which threats are unique to the Russian Arctic?
Population in the Russian Arctic has decreased since the time of the Soviet Union. Despite this, there are many settlements along the Russian coast. The risk of accidents between humans and polar bears is higher in Russia than in any other place.
Another Russian problem is oil and gas development. We already have platforms in very risky areas and other are under development. These platforms are not commercial beneficial, but Russian companies, like Rosneft, have already invested a lot of money on exploration, development, and ice breakers, and will not give up exploration, even if the cost of Arctic oil is expected to be very low.
- Economic development connected to climate change and sea ice reduction (increase in vessels traffic and shipping, oil and gas extraction, mining) is both an opportunity and a challenge for the Arctic as a whole. In your opinion, what are pros and cons of this development?
Opportunities of development are high in theory, but in practice they are negligible. To mention some example, richer tundra will not necessarily mean an increase in reindeer farming, because the demand for meat will remain very low. Even with less sea ice in summer, navigation in the Northern Sea Route will remain very expensive and dangerous due severe ice conditions and gaps in legal. All in all, economic advantages of this route are not so large in comparison with Suez.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the interview subject alone and do not necessarily reflect the official views of ACCEL, ELEEP, Ecologic Institute, or the Atlantic Council.