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Climate Change

The consequences of climate change are now understood to be widespread, affecting many different aspects of the environment.  The impact on cetaceans is believed to be equally broad and climate change is also likely to exacerbate existing threats, for example habitat loss, pollution and disease.  

The IWC first considered the implications of climate change for its work in the early 1990s.  Historically, it has been difficult to provide meaningful advice on how to manage the threat to cetaceans.  This is because such advice should be based on accurate predictions, and the modelling capability to predict cetacean responses to climate change at both species and ecosystem levels is not yet sufficiently developed.

The IWC has held four workshops on climate change, the first in 1996, the second in 2010 in response to the 4th Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change. The third, in 2011, focused on potential impacts to small cetaceans, and a fourth in 2014 assessed the impacts of increased marine activities on cetaceans in the Arctic. Long term goals, pursued through these workshops, include improving predictive modelling techniques, maintenance of long-term datasets and collaboration with other relevant international organisations, including the Arctic Council, CCAMLR, and IUCN.

Work in this field, particularly the 2011 and 2014 workshops, has also sought to identify cetacean populations likely to be at higher risk from the impact of climate change. The small cetacean populations living in restricted habitats such as estuaries, rivers and shallow waters were identified as likely to find it harder to adapt to changing circumstances, as well as cetaceans in Arctic waters where climate change has already significantly altered the marine ecosystem.

Research continues to better evaluate how cetacean populations are likely to respond to climate change. Significant developments have been made in the field of predictive modelling, including through work elsewhere in the IWC, attempting to predict the impact on cetaceans of chemical pollution and disease.  In 2014 the IWC Scientific Committee established a Climate Change Steering Group which is leading on this work and is currently developing a two year work plan.

Read more

To read the latest report of the IWC Climate Change Steering Group click here.

To read the report of the 2014 Workshop on Impacts of Increased Marine Activities on Cetaceans in the Arctic click here.

To read the report of the 2011 Workshop on Small Cetaceans and Climate Change click here.

To read the report of the 2010 Workshop on Cetaceans and Climate Change click here.