This week I am just a wee bit jealous of the Secretary General of the United Nations. He has visited the Svalbard archipelago, somewhere I have always dreamed of going. I find myself trying to imagine what Ban Ki-moon must be seeing and feeling. No doubt he is struck by the majestic glaciers, deep fjords and unique habitats.
Ban Ki-moon and Børge Brende at Kongsfjorden, Svalbard. © Ane Lunde, UD
I imagine it must be hugely frustrating for him to see the Arctic crisis escalating. In 2009 he visited the Arctic and expressed alarm at the rate of climate change in this special part of the world. Since then he has worked tirelessly to encourage global leaders to act. Now six years later he is visiting again. In that time, the Arctic ice cap shrank to a record low (2012) and global CO2 emissions have risen by more than 11% (although last year the rise did level out).
Despite the challenges, I like to think that he can take heart from watching the movement to Save the Arctic takeoff. I’ll never really know what he thinks, but I know that I certainly find it heartening. Millions have signed up to Save the Arctic, with thousands taking part in hundreds of acts of protest. We are calling for Arctic protection and action on climate change, starting with a ban on oil drilling in the melting Arctic.
While global leaders dither people are showing vision and commitment. It is clear that we have to generate the momentum for change from the bottom up. Together we can imagine and build a future where the Arctic is protected, and where our lives are fuelled by renewable energy that does not cost the Earth.
Ban Ki-moon and Børge Brende in Svalbard. © Ane Lunde, UD
Last year this burgeoning movement was brought to the attention of Ban Ki-moon. He was presented with a gift representing the then six million names on the petition to Save the Arctic. He said, “I receive this as a common commitment toward our common future, protecting our environment, not only in the Arctic, but all over the world.” He was asked if he would consider convening an international summit to discuss the issue of Arctic protection, and although he made no promises on a summit he did say that he would like to visit the Arctic again.
This year he has sent an important signal by choosing to take another trip to the Arctic to see the impacts of climate change and call for action in the run up to the UN climate talks in December. While visiting the Blomstrandbreen glacier on Svalbard he said, “I am just close to 250 metres to the glacier. It looks magnificent. But at the same time, I am alarmed that there are so many cracks that will soon break. They are melting very rapidly, and I fully agree with what scientists have been projecting. Unless we take action now, we will have to regret. We have to keep global temperature rise below two degrees as soon as possible.”
The Secretary General clearly has a personal interest in the Arctic. But don’t we all? What happens there affects everyone. Our global climate system means that we all have a link to the Arctic whether or not we have ever had the chance to visit. And at this time of Arctic crisis there are now more than 7 million people from around the world who have felt moved to show their concern for this incredible place at the top of the world.
Sophie Allain is an Arctic Campaigner at Greenpeace International.
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