Global warming poses big threats to Canada’s Arctic

Ottawa officials are trying to put the best possible spin on an inexorable environmental phenomenon that threatens to turn the Arctic upside down.


Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT The good news is that sailing through the Northwest Passage will finally be a cinch.

The bad news?

Well, global warming will probably drive muskoxen, polar bears and Peary caribou into extinction.

And other species including humans will face declining food sources as changes in the availability of vegetation occur, according to a new Environment Canada report on the effects of climate change.

Some experts predict warmer average temperatures north of 60 will cause the Arctic Ocean to stay ice-free for long periods of the year. If this happens, walrus and seal populations will decline, too.

Ottawa attempts positive spin

Not to be discouraged, Canada’s environment minister, Christine Stewart, hit a note of optimism last week when the report, Responding to Global Climate Change in Canada’s Arctic, was finally released.

“Over the centuries, people have shown great ingenuity and resourcefulness in adapting to the harsh environment of the Arctic,” Stewart said in a release.

“A rapidly changing climate will pose further challenges.”

The report notes, for instance, that reduced ice cover would be a potential boon to offshore oil and gas production. The shipping season would be extended, and in the western Arctic, “new agricultural opportunities would arise.”

Harder for caribou to find food

Of course, higher carbon dioxide gas emissions in the atmoshpere will also bring more rain and snow to to the Arctic as much as 25 per cent more. And deeper snow will make it more difficult for caribou to find food.

The study’s authors predict the heavier sno cover will lead, in turn, to smaller, thinner animals forced to go farther afield for food in winter, and and plagued by insects in the summer.

Inland waterways would change dramatically, too and Arctic char in the 21st century will likely have to compete for habitat with a range of of species now confined to the South, such as trout.

About the only animals not expected to be affected directly by warming temperatures are beluga and bowhead whales, whose populations the report’s author’s predict will either increase or remain stable.

Responding to Global Climate Change in Canada’s Arctic is the fifth of six regional reports of the Canada Country Study (CCS). The study was undertaken in 1996 by Environment Canada to identify the potenial impacts of future climate change on human activity in different regions of the country.

One of the questions the study has sought to answer is how Canadians in each region should best respond to climate change. The study’s participants include representatives from government, industry and the academic community, as well as environmental groups.

The study’s latest report predicts that an accelerated rate of greenhouse gas emissions would cause winter temperatures in the mainland of the Canadian Arctic to rise by 5 to 7 degrees within the next century.

These warmer temperatures would, in turn, cause more than a half of existing permafrost to disappear.

Canada not meeting commitments

Canada has not been able to live up to its own international commitment to stablilize greenhouse gas emissions, produced by burning fossil fuels such as diesel, gasoline and heating oil.

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution 200 years ago, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the planet’s atmosphere has greatly increased.

Scientists expect to see a doubling of the atmospheric composition of carbon dioxide within the next century.

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