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UN warns climate change melting glaciers at alarming rate

by Staff Writers
Zurich (AFP) March 16, 2008
The world's glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, the UN said Sunday, calling for immediate action to prevent further constraints on water resources for large populations.

"Millions if not billions of people depend directly or indirectly on these natural water storage facilities for drinking water, agriculture, industry and power generation during key parts of the year," said Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The culprit is climate change, according to data from the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS), based at the University of Zurich and supported by UNEP.

The centre drew its findings from nearly 30 glaciers in nine mountain ranges revealing that in 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 the average rate of melting more than doubled.

"The latest figures are part of what appears to be an accelerating trend with no apparent end in sight," said Wilfried Haeberli, director of WGMS.

According to UNEP, the speed at which the glaciers are melting has accelerated in recent few years, with what had been a record loss for two decades -- 0.7 metres (2.3 feet) in 1998 -- having been exceeded in three of the past six years.

Steiner said that "it is absolutely essential that everyone sits up and takes notice," adding that the forecast is not entirely gloomy given the growth of the so-called green economy.

However, Steiner said the 2009 climate convention in Copenhagen will provide the true litmus test of governments' commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the carbon pollution from fossil fuels damaging Earth's climate system.

"Otherwise, and like the glaciers, our room for manoeuvre and the opportunity to act may simply melt away."

WGMS measures the thinning of glaciers in terms of water equivalent, for instance, estimating that in 2006 shrinking was equivalent to 1.4 metres of water, compared with half a metre in 2005.

Some glaciers have particularly suffered, such as Norway's Breidalblikkbrea glacier, which thinned almost 3.1 metres in 2006 compared with 0.3 metres in 2005.

Other glaciers to have experienced dramatic loss in Europe are Austria's Grosser Goldbergkees glacier, France's Ossoue glacier, Italy's Malavalle glacier, Spain's Maladeta glacier, Sweden's Storglaciaeren glacier and Switzerland's Findelen glacier.

Only four percent of the 30 glaciers WGMS tracks for changes have thickened.

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