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At Arctic Circle 2014: Addressing Climate Change is an International Responsibility

2014 Arctic Circle meeting in Reykjavík, Iceland. Photo: ArcticCircle.org

Global warming is real and irreversible, according to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Residents of the Arctic are at the epicenter of impact, but they’re not the only ones responsible for mitigating the crisis.

“We frankly have absolutely no doubt that we human beings have caused climate change. We also have no doubt that we must address climate change given the impacts that we’re seeing everywhere—in particular, here in the Arctic,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The message during her speech to the 2014 Arctic Circle meeting in Iceland was straightforward: internationally, we have the technology and financing to act on climate change. It’s in the form of $90 trillion that Figueres said should be invested in clean and resilient infrastructure over the next 15 years. But that’s not just a recommendation for Arctic nations—responsible development must go across the globe.

“Those 90 trillion, the funding for which is already sitting under pillows and mattresses, it has to be decided: is that going to go into businesses’ usual infrastructure, i.e., the technologies of last century and non-resilient, high-risk infrastructure? Or is it actually going into clean technologies and into resilient infrastructure?” asked Figueres. “And if we’re able to make that switch, the different cost of which is only four to five percent—if we’re able to make that switch over the next 15 years, my friends, then we will have addressed at least the worst impacts of climate change.”

Figueres was one of many speakers to hit the note of collaboration among international bodies to effectively address climate change. And the conference coincided with gaining momentum around the 2015 Paris Agreement, through which the United Nations hopes to establish a binding international agreement on climate.

Figueres said the Arctic Circle meeting is a model of three characteristics necessary for Paris Agreement to succeed: a balance between local needs, national interest and global responsibility; the ability to measure short term benefits with long-term impacts of climate change; and the understanding that climate change must be addressed on an international scale.

“Here, in the Arctic, we are realizing that there is no country that is immune. That there is no one single country that can solve this problem. And that therefore our most urgent need here is to build a collaboration platform to ensure that no one country is left behind, that no one community is left behind, that no one family is left behind,” said Figueres.

For its part, as the United States prepares to chair the Arctic Council in April, retired U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Robert Papp says climate change will be one of their top priorities. A draft of the Paris Agreement will reach the desks of 194 countries’ capitols in May of 2015 before its anticipated final adoption in December.