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Indigenous Peoples Urge Action on Arctic Thaw

Indigenous Peoples Urge Action on Arctic Thaw
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NORWAY: September 30, 2005

OSLO - Indigenous peoples urged tougher action to slow global warming on Thursday after a US report showed the Arctic icecap had shrunk to its smallest in at least 100 years.

The UN Environment Programme also said the shrinking ice was yet more alarming evidence of an Arctic thaw that could portend worldwide disruptions including stronger hurricanes, desertification and rising sea levels.

"This is a another reminder" of the fast melt in the Arctic, said Alona Yefimenko, acting head of the Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples' Secretariat in Copenhagen.

"All the indigenous political leaders are trying to bring this message to reduce (greenhouse gas) emissions, not only in the United States but also in Europe," she said.

Scientists at NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said on Wednesday the Arctic ice shrank this year for the fourth year in a row to the smallest area since measurements started 100 years ago.

Yefimenko said shrinking ice was threatening traditional lifestyles. Hunters of polar bears or seals risk falling through thinning ice. Reindeer herders often find reindeer struggling in mud on what was once permafrost.

And Arctic leaders especially want the United States, the world's biggest polluter, to cap emissions of heat-trapping gases from power plants, factories and cars blamed by most scientists for global warming.

Almost all other rich nations have agreed to curbs under the United Nations's Kyoto protocol.

NASA and NSIDC said the rising temperatures seemed linked to a buildup of gases from human sources. President George W. Bush pulled out of Kyoto in 2001, saying it would be too costly and wrongly excluded developing nations.

Indigenous leaders dismiss Bush's view that more research is needed, saying climate change is already happening.

"In Alaska, for instance, you can't take snowmobiles across lakes and be sure of reaching the other side," said Yefimenko, who is from the Russian far east.

"Around the Arctic, water flows in rivers are unpredictable. It's very difficult for reindeer herders to cross rivers."

The US findings backed a report by 250 experts last year that forecast that the Arctic ice could disappear in summers by 2100, driving polar bears towards extinction.

The impact would be largely negative but could open the Arctic to exploration for oil and gas, mining, logging or trans-polar shipping routes between the Atlantic and Pacific.

"The documentation is getting stronger," said Paal Prestrud, a vice-chair of last year's Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) and head of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo.

According to the ACIA report, the Arctic melts faster than the rest of the globe because darker water and ground, once exposed, traps heat far more than ice and snow.

The US report "is yet further evidence that climate change is not a prediction for the future but a phenomenon that is happening now", said Nick Nuttall, spokesman of the UN Environment Programme.

And he said the world might risk catastrophic, abrupt changes unless it acted quickly.

"An already very bad trend seems to be getting worse," said Steve Sawyer, head of climate and energy policy at environmental group Greenpeace.

Apart from the Arctic sea ice, he said there were worrying signs of a melting of the Greenland icecap. If all the Greenland icecap melted, the world's oceans could rise by 7 metres.

Story by Alister Doyle