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Arctic ice to melt in summer this century unless greenhouse gases curbed: report
OSLO (AFP) Nov 02, 2004
The Arctic ice cover will completely disappear in summer by the end of this century unless carbon dioxide emissions are significantly reduced, according to a scientific study to be released next week.

"The big melt has begun," said Jennifer Morgan, director of the Climate Change Campaign for the environmental organisation WWF, which published excerpts of the upcoming Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) report.

The Arctic ice melt will cause sea levels to rise and could lead to the extinction of some species, such as polar bears, it said.

Commissioned by the Arctic Council and compiled by more than 250 scientists, the report concludes that "climate change is happening in the Arctic and that it will get worse unless emissions of carbon dioxide are cut."

"Industrial countries are carrying out an uncontrolled experiment to study the effects of climate change and the Arctic is their first guinea pig. This is unethical and wrong. They must cut emissions of CO2 now," Morgan said.

The report presents several potential scenarios which would occur if the Arctic ice were to disappear in summertime by the end of the 21st century.

It said sea levels could rise by one meter (3.3 feet), noting that there are currently 17 million people living less than one meter above sea level in Bangladesh. It said places like Florida and Louisiana in the United States, and the Asian cities of Bangkok, Calcutta, Dhaka and Manila were also at risk.

However, on the positive side, rising sea levels would create a "northern passage" for shipping between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and would open up new areas for fishing, mining and oil and gas exploration.

The melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which is expected to take hundreds of years, could ultimately lead to a seven-meter rise in sea levels, it said.

Several fish and mammal species could also succumb to climate change.

"Polar bears could become extinct by the end of this century. They are unlikely to survive as a species if there is an almost complete loss of summer sea ice cover," the WWF said.

Polar bears feed mainly off of seals living under the ice, which the large mammals break to catch their prey.

The ACIA report is to be published in its entirety on November 8.

The WWF welcomed the report, but stressed the "hypocrisy" of the eight members of the Arctic Council -- the United States, Canada, Russia, Japan, Finland, Sweden, Iceland and Norway -- which sponsored it, noting that they emit more than 30 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

While Russia decided last month to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which commits industrialised countries to trim output of six greenhouse gases, the United States, the world's largest polluter, still refuses to do so.

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