Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

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5.9.3. Adaptation Options

Opportunities for adapting to expected changes in high-latitude ecosystems are limited because these systems will respond most strongly to globally induced changes in climate rather than to regionally controlled and regulated factors. The effects of climate and disturbance regime on regional productivity and carbon balance may be difficult to alter at the local or regional scale. The most important opportunities for mitigation will be protection of peatlands, yedoma sediments, and other carbon-rich areas from large-scale hydrological change. It is unlikely that expected changes in fire or thermokarst regime can be altered except in areas of high population densities. Adaptation options for forests that occur in these areas are presented in Section 5.6.

The most important opportunities for adaptation in arctic ecosystems may exist for culturally important resources such as reindeer, caribou, waterfowl, and specific plant taxa (see Section 5.4). Careful management of these resources could minimize climatic impacts on indigenous peoples. Another adaptation option is diversification. Many high-latitude regions depend strongly on one or a few resources—such as timber, oil, reindeer, or wages from fighting fires. Economic diversification would reduce the impacts of large changes in the availability or economic value of particular goods and services.

In alpine regions, major opportunities for adaptation relate to protection from large-scale changes in land use or pollutant levels. Because these causes of change are local to regional, wise management could minimize changes.

5.9.4. Vulnerability

Goods and services provided by many arctic regions depend on the physical integrity of permafrost and therefore are vulnerable to warming-induced thermokarst. The large carbon stocks in these regions are vulnerable to loss to the atmosphere as CO2 or CH4, which could act as positive feedbacks to global warming. A few key taxa of animals—such as reindeer, caribou, and waterfowl—are critical cultural resources. Often these taxa are concentrated in particular habitats, such as riparian areas or high-Arctic oases. Ecological changes that modify the population dynamics of these species or modify the impact on their habitats could have important social consequences.

High levels of endemism in many alpine flora and their inability to migrate upward mean that these species are most vulnerable. In addition, alpine soils are vulnerable to losses from erosion, which would radically reduce the goods and services that these regions could provide.

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