The latest science links Arctic climate change to extreme weather across the Northern Hemisphere with more certainty than ever before.
For example, recent studies suggest that Arctic warming leads to more extreme winter cold spells in Northern Hemisphere continents, like that in February, 2021 centred in Texas and fueled the extreme snowfall during the “Beast from the East” that brought large parts of Europe to a standstill in March, 2018.
Meanwhile, amplified global and Arctic warming leads directly to more intense droughts and summer heatwaves, like in 2021 when record-breaking events over northwestern North America, Europe, and the Middle East, including the extreme fires across the western US states and in Canada.
Climate change can intensify the destructive power of super-strength storms: analysis suggests that global warming increased the heavy precipitation associated with the 2017 Hurricane Harvey by at least 15%.
The rate of Arctic climate change is slowing down weather patterns, directly threatening the breadbasket regions of the Northern Hemisphere.
The IPCC found that more intense and frequent extreme sea level events, together with trends in coastal development, will increase expected annual flood damages by 2-3 orders of magnitude by 2100 in the absence of costly adaptation efforts. While adaptation can be effective – New Zealand has just published its own comprehensive plan – many communities in low-income or rural regions cannot fund it.
Nearly 600 million people live in coastal zones worldwide. As sea levels rise, they will be increasingly vulnerable to dislocation, threatening approximately US$1 trillion of global wealth.
The IPCC identified a range of disruptions to global trade as a result of climate change.
Shipping routes, port activity, roads, railways and other coastal infrastructure are compromised by sea-level rise, hurricanes and severe storms.
McKinsey analysis found that the probability of a hurricane of sufficient intensity to disrupt semiconductor supply chains is set to grow two to four times by 2040. The changing Arctic amplifies the risk of storms and other extreme weather.
Supply chain risks in food are also elevated by Arctic warming through changes to the global precipitation and weather systems.
Arctic change has been linked to droughts, floods, storms and other extreme weather events that pose a direct threat to global food supplies. The world is already bracing for a food crisis following the war in Ukraine – one of the bread baskets of the world. Arctic warming adds another layer on top of existing threats to food security.
Arctic warming disrupts the jet stream, and research reveals that changes to the jet stream heighten the risk of simultaneous crop failures in multiple grain-producing parts of the world. Grain production is already highly concentrated: only five regions account for about 60% of global grain production, meaning climate hazards could damage already-low resilience.
Threats to food security pose significant humanitarian costs and bigger challenges for sustainable development throughout the globe.
Melting snow and glaciers in the Himalayas have resulted in changes in the seasonality of the hydrological cycle, causing significant problems for agriculture, hydroelectric power distribution, and drinking water supplies in urban and rural centres that rely on both sources.
Unprecedented drought in Africa, Afghanistan, and India has resulted in acute malnutrition, food shortage and humanitarian crises.
Vector-borne diseases are a consequence of not just long-term increase, but also extremes in temperature and precipitation associated with global warming; increased drinking water storage during drought provides breeding habitats for mosquitoes that carry disease like the dengue virus in the drylands of Africa, and malaria in Afghanistan. Stagnant water following heavy rainfall and flooding can also contribute to increased incidence of mosquito-borne disease. With regional increases in temperature to 4°C from 2°C, vector-borne diseases are expected to increase five times in the absence of vector control management, disease surveillance, early warning systems, and vaccine development.
Permafrost thaw and degradation also pose the threat of releasing bacteria resistant to antibiotics from permafrost soils.
The Arctic is the planet’s heatsink – and loss of ice and snow amplifies the risk of global heatwaves, meaning more intense heat stress in already-hot parts of the world.
One study found that in south Asia – where one quarter of the world’s population lives – 2°C of global warming will mean the population’s exposure to unsafe labour temperatures will more than double, and exposure to lethal temperatures rises 2.7 times.
As well as the humanitarian consequences, south and south-east Asia’s role as a manufacturing hub means major disruption to its economy and global supply chains if its cities periodically become too hot to work in.
A separate analysis, looking at the likely rise in labour days lost because workers will be unable to perform physical activity, found that over the next three decades, south-east Asia could lose 16% of its labour capacity due to rising heat stress. The report estimates Singapore would see a 25% productivity drop, with productivity losses of 24% for Malaysia, 21% for Indonesia, and 16% for Cambodia and the Philippines. It also identified risk for Manaus in Brazil, Cartagena in Colombia, and Panama City.
By 2300, Arctic breakdown is expected to contribute to total global economic impacts of >$66 trillion under mitigation levels consistent with national pledges at the time of the research.
The extreme weather triggered by loss of Arctic ice and spring snow cover is already causing significant economic losses. The cost of extreme weather events during 2020 was about $190 billion globally according to Swiss Re analysis.
Widespread wildfires in the US (2020), along with floods in Germany (2021) and the UK (2015-16), have each caused billions of USD worth of economic damage.
As cities develop while climate risks rise, the economic costs of extreme weather grow rapidly. Estimates suggest that Ho Chi Minh City could experience 5 – 10 times the economic impact from an extreme flood in 2050 versus today.
New government-backed reinsurance schemes point to increasing uninsurable risks due to more extreme weather.
McKinsey research found that in Florida, flood losses could devalue vulnerable homes by $30 – 80 billion by 2050, affecting property tax revenue in some counties by 15 – 30%.
Arctic Indigenous communities are finding it increasingly difficult to keep pace with the rapid changes in the Arctic climate and weather. They face pressures including damage to infrastructure from thawing permafrost and increased risk of wildfires, and difficult reindeer herding conditions in winter due to extreme swings in weather. They are facing threats to their subsistence economies and way of life as the Arctic sea-ice melts, glaciers recede, permafrost thaws and the Arctic becomes greener.
Some Arctic communities experience difficulty accessing clean drinking water and sufficient, safe and nutritious food because of permafrost thaw, sea ice loss, changes in seasonality in surface water availability, and resource development and extraction. Recently, residents in Iqaluit, Nunavut experienced a water crisis where 8000 residents were denied access to clean drinking water for two months.