Canada and its Arctic allies will launch a major study this spring to help northern nations cope with the irreversible effects of climate change.
The speedy melting of polar ice is the driving force behind the Arctic Council's decision to announce the wide-ranging study.
The project, called the Arctic Change Assessment, will be disclosed when Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon and his seven counterparts meet this May in Greenland.
Canada will play a key role because it will end its two-year stint in the rotating chairmanship of the council in 2015 when the study is to be completed.
"In 2015, we definitely should come up with a substantial amount of advice that we will present to the ministers, and that they hopefully will act upon," Karsten Klepsvik, Norway's senior Arctic official, told The Canadian Press in an interview.
"The foremost conclusion is quite simply that the ice is melting much faster than we were aware of. That's a fairly dramatic conclusion, which might have dramatic implications."
Klepsvik was in Ottawa last week for meetings with his counterparts at the Foreign Affairs Department.
Bureaucrats get it
The Harper government continues to face criticism for not doing enough to battle climate change.
Klepsvik said bureaucrats fully appreciate the seriousness of the problem.
"They are fully onboard on all these projects. They are behind all the conclusions and recommendations coming out on these projects," he said.
Numerous studies in recent years have raised alarms about the rapid pace of disappearing Arctic ice. The retreating ice will eventually open new sea lanes to greater commercial traffic, and will expose the Arctic's rich oil and gas deposits to greater exploration.
Last summer, the melt of ice caps in the Arctic Ocean reached unprecedented levels, while a 260-square-kilometre chunk of ice broke off a glacier in northwest Greenland — the biggest slab of Arctic ice to break away in half a century.
Klepsvik said the Arctic Change Assessment will study changing climate and melting sea ice, glaciers and permafrost. The aim is to help Arctic countries cope with inevitable, irreversible change.
"Even if we stopped all emission of carbon dioxide, these concentrations will be in the atmosphere for several hundred years. So we have to adapt to the new circumstances," he said.
The report will ultimately discuss a range of options, he said, "everything from new building regulations to new ways of building roads to what will happen to agriculture in the Arctic in the future."
'So many aspects'
Klepsvik said the future is not entirely bleak because warmer temperatures in countries such as Norway and Canada could lead to new business opportunities in fishing and oil and gas.
"But there are also problems because of more bad weather, stronger winds, more avalanches because of increased amounts of snow, soil running out, erosion along the coasts. There are so many aspects of this."
Last fall, the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy released a report on how climate change could reshape Canada. It found that a two-degree rise in temperatures could melt half the summer Arctic sea ice, displace salmon from the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Grand Banks, and increase cod stocks north of the 60th parallel.
Klepsvik said the Arctic Council's work on climate change will continue well beyond 2015.
"This is an issue that is evolving," he said. "This is an issue that will be ongoing for as far into the future as we can see today."