Scientists reveal polar threat

Polar bears could become extinct by the end of this century if Arctic governments do not do more to cut carbon emissions, a report on climate change has revealed.

Human-induced climate change in the Arctic region is around two or three times greater than anywhere else in the world, according to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA).

The significant Arctic warming is currently melting ice at such a rate that some climate models predict there will be virtually no summer sea ice cover in less than 100 years, the ACIA states.

Uninhabitable conditions would cause the native polar bears to die out completely, as well as leading to the disappearance and destruction of many Arctic fisheries, and would have health implications on animals and humans alike.

Global conservation organisation WWF called the report: “incontrovertible proof that climate change is happening in the Arctic and that it will get worse more quickly unless emissions of carbon dioxide are cut.”

Put together by 250 scientists for Arctic governments and six circumpolar indigenous peoples’ organisations, the ACIA also highlights the problems that this phenomenon could present for other countries.

For instance, melting ice caps would influence sea levels, causing a rise of at least one metre by the end of the century. Bad news indeed for the 17 million people living in places less than one metre above sea level like Bangladesh, Florida, Bangkok, Calcutta and Louisiana, amongst others (see related story).

The Greenland Ice Sheet, which melted a record amount in 2002, could also melt completely if no action was taken to curb climate change, causing sea levels to rise by seven metres, but this, the ACIA says, would take several hundred years to occur.

Members of WWF welcomed the report, but called on the Arctic governments to take action against climate change by cutting their carbon emissions, rather than merely documenting its effects.

According to the conservation group’s figures, the eight Arctic countries involved in compiling the report are actually responsible for 30% of global carbon emissions.

“The big melt has begun,” Jennifer Morgan, director of WWF’s global climate change campaign stated. “Industrialised countries are carrying out an uncontrolled experiment to study the effects of climate change and the Arctic is their first guinea pig. They must cut CO2 emissions now.”

By Jane Kettle

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