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Arctic Change as Impetus for Global Energy and Climate Governance: Messages from COP26

Updated: Apr 22



 

Author: Arsenii Kirgizov-Barskii

Energy Review, Vol 4. Issue 4. 2022


The Arctic change is rapid and widespread if measured by all key indicators - temperature, precipitation, snow cover, permafrost thaw, sea ice thickness and extent, which would also affect biodiversity conservation status in the region. However, the Arctic warming and its consequent biodiversity degradation are driven mainly by the developments happening outside of the region, connected to the greenhouse gas emissions. Taking the scale of the Arctic change into consideration, global climate governance will require close coordination with the Arctic governance institutions and stronger measures to decarbonize the world’s energy sector. The Conference of the Parties (COP) 26 to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) last November, in Glasgow, the United Kingdom, could have brought opportunities for such coordination with the Arctic governance, and called for the need to act on the energy domain.


Stronger Greenhouse Gas Commitments

Although there was no explicit mention of the Arctic in Climate COP26’s official outcome documents, the Conference has important implications for the Arctic in terms of emission reduction measures and their effects on the region. According to the UK COP Presidency, the central result of the Climate COP26 is the global agreement to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees. This requires rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, including the reduction of global CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030, and to net-zero around mid-century, from the 2010 level. If the goal is not met, the Arctic region will be among the most affected by climate change, particularly in terms of its impacts on critical infrastructure.

Ahead of COP26, the Arctic Council’s Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) stated in a report that the Arctic would continue to warm rapidly, from 3.3 to 10 degrees before 2100, depending on future emissions. The probability of an ice-free summer is 10 times higher under a 2-degrees global warming scenario. This means that the Arctic will be disproportionately negatively affected by the rising temperatures. In light of this recognition being officially pronounced in the Arctic Council official documents (e.g. Reykjavik Declaration 2021), the Arctic states and Permanent Participants underline the need for enhanced action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and slow the rate of increase in average temperature at the global level and in the Arctic.


One of the means to reduce emissions is the decarbonization of the global energy sector. Ahead of COP26, all Arctic states, which mostly have carbon-intensive economies, have delivered their NDCs and set clear energy transition targets. New low-carbon and carbon-neutral energy strategies of the Arctic states will help not only to reduce emissions but also preserve the fragile Arctic environment. Given that the current Arctic Council Chairmanship makes climate change mitigation and ecology one of its priorities, new climate strategies and targets will get a corresponding reflection on the Arctic energy sector and environment.


Enhancement of the Arctic Climate Action: Black Carbon and Methane


At COP26, unprecedented attention was raised towards some issues particularly relevant for the Arctic. For example, Article 19 of the Glasgow Climate Pact invited the countries to consider further actions to reduce non-carbon-dioxide greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, including methane. According to an AMAP report, despite generating just 10% of global black carbon emissions, Arctic states are responsible for 30% of black carbon’s warming effects in the region, due to the greater warming impact of local emission sources. Having a global mandate from COP26, the Arctic states have opportunities to strengthen their efforts to reduce emissions of SLCFs and mitigate their negative impacts. Action by non-Arctic states is also important, as black carbon emissions can be transported long distances from their source to the Arctic region.


In terms of methane, the Global Methane Pledge was adopted at COP26 by more than 100 countries. Among them were many Arctic states that pledged to reduce 30% of emissions by 2030. Methane accounts for about half of the net rise in global average temperature since the pre-industrial era. What makes it particularly relevant for the Arctic is the degradation of permafrost, which may accelerate climate change by emitting even more methane. The nexus between permafrost thaw and methane emissions is monitored to identify future solutions. The Arctic Council’s Framework for Action for Enhanced Black Carbon and Methane Emission Reductions includes a commitment from Arctic states to significantly reduce their overall methane emissions. Meeting this commitment in the Arctic would demand applying the best available technologies by all stakeholders, both in the region as well as globally.


Having identified these developments, this article emphasises the urgent need to implement the decisions and ideas discussed at Climate COP26 on the global and regional Arctic level. To ensure the positive effect of the milestone environmental conference of 2021 on the Arctic governance, there is a potential to reduce greenhouse gas and short-lived climate forcers emissions by Arctic states, enhance Arctic climate action, with the emphasis on black carbon, methane and relevant research and assessment activities. To conclude, the Arctic, due to its rapid climate change processes, has already become a major impetus for the world to start climate action and decarbonize the global energy sector. The UN Climate Change Conference COP26 has brought valuable opportunities for coordination between the Arctic and global governance efforts for tackling the effects of climate change. Now there is a momentum for the world to comply with messages from Glasgow and save the Arctic.


(Mr. Arsenii Kirgizov-Barskiiis the Assistant Chair at BRICS Youth Energy Agency, and can be reached at kirgizovbavrskii@yeabrics.org )