ACCESS - Arctic Climate Change, Economy and Society

Funding: EU FP7, 2011-2014

The Arctic is engaged in a deep climatic evolution. This evolution is quite predictable at short (year) and longer scales (several decades), but it is the decadal intermediate scale that is the most difficult to predict. This is because the natural variability of the system is large and dominant at this scale, and the system is highly non linear due to positive and negative feedback between sea ice, the ocean and atmosphere.
Already today, due to the increase of the GHG concentration in the atmosphere and the amplification of global warming in the Arctic, the impacts of climate change in the region are apparent, e.g. in the reduction in sea ice, in changes in weather patterns and cyclones or in the melting of glaciers and permafrost. It is therefore not surprising that models clearly predict that Artic sea ice will disappear in summer within 20 or 30 years, yielding new opportunities and risks for human activities in the Arctic.
This climatic evolution is going to have strong impacts on both marine ecosystems and human activities in the Arctic. This in turn has large socio-economic implications for Europe. ACCESS will evaluate climatic impacts in the Arctic on marine transportation (including tourism), fisheries, marine mammals and the extraction of hydrocarbons for the next 20 years; with particular attention to environmental sensitivities and sustainability.
These meso-economic issues will be extended to the macro-economic scale in order to highlight trans-sectoral implications and provide an integrated assessment of the socio-economic impact of climate change. An important aspect of ACCESS, given the geostrategic implication of Arctic state changes, will be the consideration of Arctic governance issues, including the framework UNCLOS (United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea).
ACCESS dedicates a full work package to integrate Arctic climate changes, socioeconomic impacts and Arctic governance issues.

Concept and project objectives

A previously largely inaccessible ocean is opening up to commercial and recreational activities. The retreat of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean promises economic benefits but at the same time reminds us of the workings of manmade climate change that is especially pronounced at high northern latitudes. Economic opportunities and environmental risks characterize the dichotomy that the Arctic nations and the global community of states face in the Arctic. Allowing the unregulated exploitation of Arctic resources, limitless
development, and the consequential environmental damage to a so far relatively pristine region is not an option. Severe restrictions on commercial development and tourism, however, may also seem unrealistic considering the unprecedented opportunities which could develop with climate change. A multilateral agreement like the Antarctic Treaty is thus much less feasible for the Arctic. The Arctic is more accessible to economically important markets with respect to distance, countries have overlapping and in many cases,
conflicting interests in the region and there is a large population in the Arctic that will be affected both by climate change and economic development. The interests and life circumstance of the indigenous people must be considered and respected in any planned development of the region.

Clearly, the observed recent changes and those anticipated in the near future for the Arctic region demand decisive political action. However, political decisions are still hampered by the lack of necessary scientific information in all relevant fields from climate sciences, to jurisdiction and socio-economic implications. ACCESS aims at a better understanding of environmental changes in the Arctic and at quantifying the impact of climate change on macro and meso-economic levels and in key economic sectors using an integrated and trans-sectoral approach. Based on this understanding it is possible to assess the related risk and opportunities in a broader context and to provide a foundation for the sustainable development of economic activities with a minimal impact on this sensitive environment. Therefore, the general objectives of ACCESS for “Quantifying climate change impacts on economic sectors in the Arctic” are threefold:

  • to improve our understanding and the predictive capacity of how Arctic climate and Arctic marineecosystems respond to a combination of natural and anthropogenic factors
  • to improve our understanding of how rapid environmental changes might affect human activity in the arctic and impact on sectors and regions
  • to evaluate which risks to humans and the environment at large will result

The sectoral workpackages WP2 (Marine Transport and Tourism), WP3 (Fisheries)and WP4 (Resource Extraction) are embedded in parts into WP 1 (Climate and Environment) and WP5 (Governance, sustainable development and synthesis). This symbolizes the intense interaction with WP1 and WP5 as overarching workpackages. The principle flow of information will be such, that scientifically founded information on all relevant sea ice and climate aspects will be provided by WP1 and fed into WPs 2-5. All WPs will be feed into the overarching WP 5 to elaborate the concrete response to the expected impacts.

ASOF - related activities in ACCESS encompass the major part of its WP1 'Climate Change and Arctic Environment'.

To provide a scientific foundation for the quantification of climate change impacts on economic sectors and the evaluation of associated risks a profound knowledge on the state and expected change of sea ice, as well as atmosphere and oceans, is an essential prerequisite. This duty will be in the hands of WP1 'Climate Change and Arctic Environment'. It will rely on modelling and observational elements which are necessary to provide scientifically based optimal information of the WPs 2 – 5 which deal with the different economic sectors as well as governance issues.

A main aspect of WP1 thus concerns a better prediction of sea ice extent, thickness and concentration, as sea ice has probably the largest impact on all domains of economic activity. Other important factors are iceberg drift affecting shipping and resource extraction, as do extreme weather events such as polar lows and the increase of of low pressure systems along the northern coast of Siberia. Ocean changes also affect fisheries and have a feedback effect on the ice itself. Any evaluation of climate change on socio-economic aspects in the Arctic must rely on predictions of the development of Arctic climate parameters over the next decades. For more information please contact the coordinator Jean Claude Gascard or the asssitant to the coordinator Michael Karcher.