The Climate Force Arctic (CFA) Expedition to the north polar region was led by Robert Swan, OBE, F.R.G.S, and the first man in history to have walked to both the poles. Climate Force International Director and Robert Swan’s illustrious son Barney, who last year became the first person to reach the South Pole powered solely by renewable energy and The Explorer’s Passage Founder Jeff Bonaldi were among the Team Leaders.
The CFA team comprising of 86 scientists, naturalists, corporate leaders, writers, filmmakers, civil society leaders and other experts from 27 countries first met at Oslo, the 2019 European Green Capital of the Year award winning city. The acclimatization period included leadership sessions, workshops and presentations, with David Hone, author and Chief Climate Change Advisor at Shell, leading the discussions on climate change scenarios and solutions.
On the second day, I was invited to deliver an audio-visual presentation about the proposed Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary for all marine areas north of the Arctic Circle and make a forceful case for MAPS as an immediate and effective response to today’s global ecological and humanitarian crisis. I also talked about the water crisis and the human-wildlife conflicts in India and the challenges for the survival of rhinos, elephants and tigers.
From Oslo the CFA team was flown to Longyearbyen, the world’s northernmost town, which is located at only 800 miles from the North Pole. It was disconcerting to learn that the Svalbard archipelago had warmed by over 5 degree Celsius in the past 20 years, threatening the lifestyles of the people and biodiversity of the region.
At Longyearbyen, the CFA team boarded the National Geographic Explorer expedition ship. The daily schedule was hectic, with interactive presentations on warming impacts in the arctic region interspersed with field visits to various fjords, glaciers and biodiversity rich areas. There were zodiac cruises, shore landings and hikes, kayaking and wildlife observation trips throughout the expedition.
We experienced 24 hours of daylight, with the sun shining overhead even at midnight. In fact, there was never a moment of darkness during the entire during of the expedition.
The team was extremely lucky with sightings of Arctic wildlife. Some of the memorable encounters include the Bowhead whale, Beluga whale, Fin whale, Polar Bear, Walrus, Svalbard Reindeer, Atlantic Puffin, Great Skua, Arctic Skua and Ivory Gull. The CFA team learnt about the changing dynamics of predator and prey interactions in the warming arctic ecosystems from wildlife biologists with decades on research in the polar regions.
My book ‘Fin Del Mundo- Lessons from the End of the Earth’ was launched by Robert and Barney Swan during the expedition. The book chronicles my journey from having grown up in a climate change impacted region to the first-hand experience of warming during the International Antarctic Expedition in 2013.
The CFA team also completed the ‘Leadership on the Edge’ program curated by Robert Swan, with focus on environmental leadership development, understanding of the latest climate science, scenarios and country specific solutions and sustainability education, with onboard sessions with the experts and field work in the pristine Arctic.
The entire Arctic region is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet and scientists say it could be free of sea ice during the summer by 2030. During our visit, we saw several islands where the ice cover was record low. Animals like the seals, walrus and polar bears were facing survival threats because of the loss of sea ice. Several of the fjords had ice free spaces and we were told that the volume of ice had shrunk considerably every year.
At 80-degree North, we encountered an endless expanse of sea ice, blocking our passage further into the north polar region. The loss of sea ice is of utmost concern, as it has implications for global weather and is vital for the survival of animals like seals and polar bears. Therefore, the decision to turn back without disturbing the sea ice, even though the National Geographic Explorer is an ice-strengthened vessel capable of breaking through sea ice.
The Arctic ice cools our planet and regulates weather patterns; what happens in the Arctic affects us all, with global impacts on the weather systems. The evidence is clear that the accelerated melting of polar ice is already changing global weather. As a result, a humanitarian crisis is unfolding with floods, droughts, famine and rising sea levels all over the world. The predicted disruption of the South Asian monsoon due to the accelerated melting of sea ice could be catastrophic for India, which is already facing extreme weather and an unprecedented water crisis.