When home disappears – Steinmeier in the Arctic

Federal President

When home disappears – Steinmeier in the Arctic

At the end of his visit to Canada, Federal President Steinmeier flies to the icy north of the country. Here, the consequences of climate change are already becoming apparent.

Tuktoyaktuk -. It’s a long way that Frank-Walter Steinmeier is taking on. The Air Force Airbus with the Federal President on board flies two and a half hours from Vancouver to Yellowknife, the capital of Canada’s Northwest Territories.

There, change to a smaller propeller plane and another almost three-hour flight north beyond the Arctic Circle to Tuktoyaktuk. When Steinmeier and his delegation finally climb the five steps out of the plane, an icy wind blows snowflakes in their faces.

The Federal President ends his four-day visit to Canada in the far north. There – to her homeland – his hostess, Governor General Mary Simon, the representative of King Charles III. invited as head of state. It is the serious part of his trip, in which there was much talk of excellent German-Canadian relations in politics, business and science. Now we are talking about a completely different topic – climate change.

Simon has a simple answer to why it’s important to come up here: because it’s the place to see the devastating effects of climate change on communities, on people, on their lifestyles. “It’s not theoretical. It doesn’t happen in the future. It’s happening today.”

The coast is eroding

In the community hall, Mayor Erwin Elias explains to the German guests what that means in concrete terms for his town. He shows a photo of houses that seem to be standing in the middle of the storm-tossed Arctic Ocean, throws on the screen a diagram showing how the peninsula will shrink in the coming decades if left unchecked, and reports on the protracted resettlement of threatened houses.

“The Arctic region is the one that is warming up the fastest on earth,” says Antje Boetius, who is accompanying the Federal President. She is the director of the Alfred Wegener Institute, which has been conducting polar and marine research for decades. “We’re talking about four times faster warming than the global average in the last 40 years.” For the permafrost, this has the consequence “that what has been reliably hard underground for thousands of years is transformed into mud masses”.

The result: Houses and streets that were previously on safe ground are sinking, becoming uninhabitable and impassable. The coast is eroding. The scientist explains that there is another reason for this: “The second major factor is the retreat of the sea ice. Where large areas of the ocean become ice-free, the wind has a chance to create strong waves. And when waves smash against the land, which is already weakened, then there is really rapid erosion.” Every year, the sea eats its way into the defenseless land by the meter.

“Task of the whole world community”

A good 900 Inuit live in Tuk, as the settlement is called for short. They live mostly from fishing and hunting. Steinmeier was impressed after the conversation in the community hall. “It is unbelievable with what effort, with what commitment, with what ambition people fight back against the consequences of global warming. How much they fight to protect nature. And no matter how much they ask that the fight against climate change in this inhospitable region is not left to them alone, but that it becomes a task for the entire world community.”

The scientist Boetius makes it clear that it is also in Germany’s interest to stop climate change in the Arctic. Because: “If the sea ice disappears and the Arctic region warms up, this also has a significant impact on our weather situation and on the extremes that we notice.” One could say: “What happens in the Arctic does not stay there, but affects it our life too.” For example in agriculture, where late, hard frosts result in crop failures.

And Boetius points out something else: “We too have a coast that is eroding. We also have islands that are very low above sea level, such as Pellworm.” These are then also “doomed to sink”.

© dpa-infocom, dpa:230427-99-465234/3 (dpa)

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