Ahead of Arctic Council Meeting, New “Story Map” Analysis Outlines Mounting Climate Change Risks to Arctic Security

May 18, 2021 — Today, ahead of Thursday’s Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting, the Council on Strategic Risks’ Converging Risks Lab and the Woodwell Climate Research Center release a new “story map” analysis of the major impacts climate change and permafrost thaw will have on defense infrastructure and security operations in the Arctic. It shows that against a backdrop of regional warming, Arctic nations are increasingly competing alongside the accelerating and dangerous impacts of climate change. 

The forthcoming report whose findings are previewed this week in the “story map” analysis titled “Temperatures and Tensions Rise: Security and Climate Risks in the Arctic,” combines the latest climate projections with security analysis. It examine two main trends that will experience significant change in the Arctic and result in new challenges: rapid environmental shifts that will destabilize the region, including loss of sea ice, new temperature extremes, warming oceans, permafrost thaw, and biodiversity changes, and an influx of new human activity, including resource extraction, development, use of new shipping lanes, and military traffic. The story map analysis derived from the forthcoming report includes detailed regional maps overlaying the extent of these climate changes and their future projections alongside increasing human and security activities in the region.

As climate impacts increase the likelihood for tension amongst nations operating in the Arctic, the analysis recommends that decision-makers better integrate climate data and future projections into their consideration of regional geopolitics, actively consider the potential compound impacts of these phenomena interacting with each other and other security threats, and pay close attention to the variables of change shifting the ice, ground, weather, and mobility of the region.

“Much has been said about rising geopolitical tensions and insecurity in the Arctic region, but too often these conversations are divorced from the dangerous variable underlying these shifts: climate change,” said Kate Guy, Senior Fellow with Council on Strategic Risks and study co-author. “To truly understand the Arctic security picture, we need to understand rapid warming in the region, and vice versa. This project is a remarkable and unique collaboration between natural and political scientists to analyze Arctic climate and security factors together, and it points towards an urgent need to get ahead of these risks.” 

“The Arctic is on the front lines of climate change, and in some areas the ground there is literally collapsing as a result of significant permafrost thaw,” said Woodwell scientist and analysis co-author Alexandra Naegele. “These environmental changes are already being felt, and will continue to have an increasing impact on Arctic nations and infrastructure, as well as global climate change more broadly. It is essential that any conversations about the future of Arctic geopolitics include the regional impacts of climate change.”

The forthcoming analysis behind the story map is co-authored by Council on Strategic Risks Senior Fellow Kate Guy and Woodwell Climate scientists Dr. Alexandra Naegele, Natalie Baillargeon, Madeleine Holland, and Dr. Christopher Schwalm. The newly released story map was created by Carl Churchill and Kate Guy.

See the full story map analysis here.


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