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Global warming

September 2, 2009

A study released by the World Wide Fund for Nature on Wednesday paints a bleak picture for the future of the Arctic, and consequently for much of the rest of the world. The time to act, it says, is now.

An icy Arctic landscape
There is no time to lose if the Arctic landscape is to remain ice-coveredImage: AP

The WWF report says the melting of the Arctic could push ocean levels up by more than a meter, causing the flooding of coastal regions and affecting up to a quarter of the world's population.

In a statement, climate change advisor on the WWF's Arctic Program, Martin Sommerkorn, said the region had warmed at about twice the global rate over the past decades.

And he stressed that such rapid heating would have global scale consequences, or feedbacks as they are called in scientific circles.

The melting waters near the Arctic circle
The melting ice near the Arctic circleImage: AP

"The report tells us that we have no time to lose," he said. "If we allow the Arctic to get too warm, it is really doubtful whether we will be able to keep the Arctic climate feedbacks under control."

Spiral of disaster

The study also stipulated how the warming of the Arctic leads the region to become an engine as well as a victim of global warming.

Currently there are huge amounts of carbon stored in the Arctic's frozen soils, but the WWF says if the area continues to heat up, carbon dioxide and methane will be released into the atmosphere, further disrupting atmospheric and ocean currents.

"A warming Arctic is much more than a local problem, it is a global problem," Sommerkorn said. "Weather will change as a result of atmospheric feedbacks, ocean currents will change as a result of ocean feedbacks."

Still time to change

A chimney stack belches smoke into the air
The effects of industrial fog can be felt a long way awayImage: AP

But the WWF advisor stressed that there was still the chance to avert ongoing environmental disaster.

"It is urgently necessary to rein in greenhouse emissions while we still can."

And for that to happen, he said people have to take the signals seriously and do what has to be done in order to reach a deal on fast and effective emissions reduction at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen in December.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon agrees. He has been visiting the Arctic this week in order to see the effects of global warming first hand, and has called on the world to sit up and take notice.

"We must do all we can to preserve this Arctic ice," he said on Tuesday. "This is the political responsibility required of global leaders and we count on their commitment."

Editor: Nancy Isenson