This is crucial information for decision-makers at yet another Climate Summit, COP28 in Dubai. Nevertheless, it is more important than ever to reduce emissions at a meaningful pace, and we must intensify all the tools at our disposal.

At the same time, we know that nine out of sixteen irreversible climate and ecological tipping points lie in polar regions, our home areas. Five of these are at risk before we reach a two-degree temperature increase, with four of them already at 1.5 degrees. These include the melting of ice in the Barents Sea, collapse of ocean currents in the Labrador Sea, thawing of permafrost, and glacier collapse in Greenland and in West Antarctica, according to McKay.

So, what's the plan now?

Climate interventions, also known as geoengineering, may be part of the plan. Most such ideas have been considered almost like science fiction, and they evoke many emotions. Resistance follows several tracks. One is that discussing it may divert attention from the main task of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Another is that we should not tamper with nature, or that the problems we have today are precisely due to meddling with nature, and that we cannot risk making things even worse. These are valid and weighty arguments, but time is running out. We are heading towards a future we are not prepared for, which will be dramatic according to all available climate reports.

Real arguments against many forms of climate interventions are that we lack research, knowledge of consequences, financing mechanisms, and, last but not least, an international regulatory framework. GRID-Arendal, University of Lapland and UArctic have recently presented an evaluation of all proposed intervention ideas to delay or prevent systemic collapse in polar regions. The purpose of the report is to compare and weigh the ideas against a set of twelve criteria. The criteria range from technological maturity and scalability to global and local positive and negative effects as well as cost vs benefit. The report addresses proposals that can delay the melting of glaciers, sea ice, and icebergs, suggestions that can increase the reflection of solar energy through measures in the atmosphere or reflection through changes in cloud cover, to generally accepted industrial solutions such as CCS and Direct Air Carbon Capture (DACC), as well as known and unknown land-based and marine solutions. The evaluation shows a wide range in maturity and relevance of the various proposals. None of the marine or ice-based proposals are ready for large-scale testing. At the same time, these are likely the ones that are most urgent.

UArctic's report "Frozen Arctic" aims to be the reference point for decision-makers, authorities, media, philanthropists, and others who want to navigate this new and complex landscape. Some ideas may be worth pursuing, while society may benefit from not investing resources in others. Regardless, there is a great need for more research, testing, and development of both the ideas themselves and, most importantly, regulations that may govern them.

In the next phase of the evaluation, a broader international group of researchers will be involved, and likely several of the proposals will have taken important steps forward. The discussion about Plan B is underway. Recently, the Norwegian, Finnish, and Swedish Embassies in London, in collaboration with UArctic, organized a seminar on such "taboo measures". The seminar was well-attended, and the nuanced discussion was characterized by seriousness and curiosity. Norway and the Nordic countries have a crucial role to play in establishing relevant regulations.

What happens in the polar regions affects the entire world, whether we're talking about global sea-level rise due to the collapse of the ice edge, rising sea temperatures due to the melting of sea ice, or increased methane emissions from the thawing tundra.

We must be able to both reduce emissions and explore whether there are measures that can buy us time. The plan may be to investigate ideas that can delay, mitigate, or reverse the most severe consequences of human-made climate challenges. It is not a good enough answer to the next generations that they simply have to accept the consequences of how we have taken care of the planet.

Text by Marianne Hagen
UArctic Thematic Network on Frozen Arctic Conservation


Representing the UArctic Thematic Network on Frozen Arctic Conservation, Marianne Hagen joined the discussion at COP28 around this theme in the following panels:

Hope for the Cryosphere: Exploring feasible pathways to protect ice
December 8, 16:00, Finland Pavilion

Rapid ice loss has triggered profound changes in the polar regions, affecting global ocean-climate stability and regulation. Unfortunately, scientific evidence shows the insufficiency of decarbonization and carbon removal to cool down the planet before reaching dangerous tipping points. This event explores several proposals to prevent or reverse the loss of cryosphere elements in time to prevent catastrophic scenarios. The speakers will discuss potential pathways, knowledge gaps, and governance concerns to address this urgent issue responsively and effectively.

Climate intervention – mad or not? Why the Nordics should take the lead
December 10, 14:00, Finland Pavilion

Climate intervention is necessary if we are to keep below 1.5°C and avoid crossing some earth system tipping points. Marianne Hagen (UArctic) and Dr Shaun Fitzgerald OBE FREng (Cambridge) join youth-led think tank Operaatio Arktis to discuss the role of Nordic countries in solar radiation management and ice sheet conservation R&D and governance.

Geoengineering: Can a seabed curtain delay global sea level rise?
December 11, 10:45, Nordic Council of Ministers, B6/75, Blue Zone

What's next? According to the IPCC ARG WG2, global warming is likely to exceed the 1.5°C threshold, with the IEA stating that we are on a trajectory toward a 2.4°C increase. If this occurs, we risk surpassing critical tipping points related to Greenland and West Antarctica glaciers, summer Arctic sea ice, and permafrost. As another COP concludes, we must explore ways to delay, minimize, or prevent the worst consequences of the current climate crisis. This panel will delve into geoengineering, with a focus on the Seabed Curtain project.