Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative

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Climate-Altering Technologies and the Arctic

The Arctic region plays a key role in the global climate system acting as a carbon sink and a virtual mirror reflecting solar radiation back out into space. The rate of climate change is now significantly greater in the Arctic, which has warmed 2.4 times faster than the rest of the planet over the past 40 years.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, an Arctic ‘climate tipping point’, or threshold that, when exceeded, leads to permanent changes in the Arctic system – and thus, over time, globally – may have already been reached. This creates a vicious circle in which ice loss reduces the amount of sunlight that is reflected into space, which in turn leads to warming and further ice loss, and accelerates permafrost melting. As a result, large stores of methane, which is almost 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping gas, are irreversibly released. If climate-altering technologies were, as is suggested by theoretical research and modelling, capable of slowing or reversing this vicious circle, it makes the region an area of special interest for those considering such climate-altering technologies to cool not only the Arctic but the entire global climate.

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