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Lack of Arctic adaptation in COP21 pledges

Arctic communities are among the most affected by climate change.

Arctic communities are among the most vulnerable to climate change. Still, the need for climate change adaptation in the Arctic region is not reflected in the COP21 pledges.

Two months before the upcoming climate conference (COP21) in Paris, where the next international climate agreement will be negotiated, 119 states and regional coalitions have submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) where the parties stipulate their intended climate actions post-2020. These INDCs are central to the new international climate change regime and set the level of ambition for the new agreement.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has continuously underlined that climate change occurs faster and with more severe impact in the Arctic regions and its latest report from 2014 concludes that climate change will have significant effects on Arctic communities.

According to the IPCC, the Arctic indigenous communities are likely to be especially vulnerable to climate change due to their strong dependence on the natural environment, combined with factors of economic and political marginalisation. While indigenous people have a historic record of adaptation to environmental changes, the IPCC reports that the traditional knowledge might not be sufficient to overcome today’s rapid changes.

Despite the high vulnerability in the Arctic region, the need for climate change adaptation in that region is not reflected in the COP21 pledges. Among the Arctic countries, only Norway has included commitments to adaptation in their INDCs and, with a handful of exceptions, adaptation policies in the INDCs are largely limited to the southern hemisphere.

The IPCC identifies that many European countries already work with adaptation on all levels of governance, while the practice is less widespread in less developed regions, which might explain the absence of adaptation pledges among the Arctic states. Moreover, the European Climate Adaptation Platform reports that Norway is one of few European countries that still lack a national adaptation strategy, while Sweden and Finland adopted their respective strategies in 2008 and 2005.