Arctic Thaw Threatens People, Polar Bears 
Nov. 8, 2004
By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent 

OSLO (Reuters) - Global warming (news - web sites) is 
heating the Arctic almost twice as fast as the rest of 
the planet in a thaw that threatens millions of 
livelihoods and could wipe out polar bears by 2100, an 
eight-nation report said on Monday. 

The biggest survey to date of the Arctic climate, by 250 
scientists, said the accelerating melt could be a 
foretaste of wider disruptions from a build-up of human 
emissions of heat-trapping gases in the earth's 

The "Arctic climate is now warming rapidly and much 
larger changes are projected," according to the Arctic 
Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), funded by the United 
States, Canada, Russia, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Norway 
and Finland. 

Arctic temperatures are rising at almost twice the 
global average and could leap 4-7 Celsius (7-13 
Fahrenheit) by 2100, roughly twice the global average 
projected by U.N. reports. Siberia and Alaska have 
already warmed by 2-3 C since the 1950s. 

Possible benefits like more productive fisheries, easier 
access to oil and gas deposits or trans-Arctic shipping 
routes would be outweighed by threats to indigenous 
peoples and the habitats of animals and plants. 

Sea ice around the North Pole, for instance, could 
almost disappear in summer by the end of the century. 
The extent of the ice has already shrunk by 15-20 
percent in the past 30 years. 

"Polar bears are unlikely to survive as a species if 
there is an almost complete loss of summer sea-ice 
cover," the report said. On land, creatures like 
lemmings, caribou, reindeer and snowy owls are being 
squeezed north into a narrower range. 


The report mainly blames the melt on gases from fossil 
fuels burned in cars, factories and power plants. The 
Arctic warms faster than the global average because dark 
ground and water, once exposed, traps more heat than 
reflective snow and ice. 

Klaus Toepfer, head of the U.N. Environment Program, 
said the Arctic changes were an early warning. "What 
happens there is of concern for everyone because Arctic 
warming and its consequences have worldwide 
implications," he said. 

And the melting of glaciers is expected to raise world 
sea levels by about 10 cm (4 inches) by the end of the 

Many of the four million people in the Arctic are 
already suffering. Buildings from Russia to Canada have 
collapsed because of subsidence linked to thawing 
permafrost that also destabilizes oil pipelines, roads 
and airports. 

Indigenous hunters are falling through thinning ice and 
say that prey from seals to whales is harder to find. 
Rising levels of ultra-violet radiation may cause 

Changes under way in the Arctic "present serious 
challenges to human health and food security, and 
possibly even (to) the survival of some cultures," the 
report says. 

Farming could benefit in some areas, while more 
productive forests are moving north on to former tundra. 
"There are not just negative consequences, there will be 
new opportunities too," said Paal Prestrud, vice-chair 
of ACIA. 

Scientists will meet in Iceland this week to discuss the 
report. Foreign ministers from Arctic nations are due to 
meet in Iceland on Nov. 24 but diplomats say they are 
deeply split with Washington least willing to make 
drastic action. 

President Bush (news - web sites) pulled the United 
States out of the Kyoto protocol in 2001, arguing its 
curbs on emissions were too costly and unfairly excluded 
developing nations. 

The White House said it would not comment on Monday's 
findings and but would await the full report next year. 

"This is one draft of a report that has yet to be 
finished," White House spokesman Trent Duffy said. 

Norwegian Environment Minister Knut Hareide, a strong 
backer of Kyoto, said the protocol is only a first step. 
"The clear message from this report is that Kyoto is not 
enough. We must reduce emissions much more in coming 

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