The Arctic is particularly sensitive to global warming and is undergoing some of the most rapid changes on the planet. Amongst the rapid changes being observed, air temperatures in the Arctic have been rising at almost twice the global average; Arctic sea ice extent and thickness has declined dramatically and the process is accelerating; and the surface of the Arctic Ocean is warming. On land, permafrost, which contains large stores of carbon, is warming and thawing at the margins of its distribution.
There are also global impacts - changes in the Arctic are currently and will affect the rest of the world into the future. Changes in the Arctic are, amongst others, altering atmospheric and oceanic circulation that affects weather patterns, raising the global sea level through the increased melting of ice sheets and glaciers; and increasing the emission of carbon dioxide and methane through thawing permafrost.
These changes raising important policy issues at the global, regional and local scales. In the Arctic, key policy issues centre on the prospects of retreating sea ice opening up the North-east and Northwest passages for commercial shipping, and increasing access to oil and gas - both of which raise issues of jurisdiction and of regulatory regimes in the Arctic marine environment.
At the local level, climate change is already a major concern in many Arctic communities. Most individual communities currently lack the capacity to cope effectively with stresses, such as damage to coastal infrastructure from thawing permafrost and increased storm surges, and the loss of access to subsistence resources.