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World Environment Day

Irene Quail (ot)
June 5, 2007

June 5th is World Environment Day and this year the United Nations is marking the day in Tromso, a picturesque town in Norway’s arctic region. The motto of the meeting: Melting Ice – A Hot Topic?

Global warming tends to build on itself in arctic regionsImage: AP

The United Nations Environmental Program used the occasion to release a new report entitled "The Global Outlook for Ice and Snow."

According to the report’s findings, the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the world will be affected by declines in snow cover, sea ice, glaciers, permafrost and lake ice.

A collaboration of 70 researchers, the report found that the melting of snow and ice caps contributes greatly to climate change and global warming because less sunlight is being reflected back into the atmosphere.

Less Ice, More Heat

Bildgalerie Internationales Polarjahr 2007/2008 Bild 31
Glaciers are receding at an alarming rateImage: Hans Oerter/Alfred-Wegener-Institut

"This report is about ice and snow and may to some people seem to address issues from remote and far-away places," said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director.

"But the report underlines that fate of the world's snowy and icy places in a climatically challenged world should be cause for concern in every ministry, boardroom and living room across the world," he said.

The report is a part of the ongoing International Polar Year, an initiative spearheaded by the International Council for Science and the World Meteorological Organization.

Norway’s Environment Minister Helen Bjoernoey praised the report.

"This report gives us an overall picture of the changes in snow and ice cover and the consequences for human beings and nature, not only in the polar and mountainous areas, but all over the world. To me it is particularly alarming to realize that climate change can be a reinforcing process -- global warming results in further global warming".

A Hot Topic

Inuit hunters fear for their livelihood, and their livesImage: AP

For Inuit and other indigenous people living in Arctic regions, the rapid ice melt is a reality and a threat to their way of life.

Sheila Watt Cloutier, a former president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, is campaigning to raise awareness of climate change and is developing a network involving indigenous people all over the globe.

According to Watt, the impact of melting ice can be seen most clearly in these arctic regions, but the effects will reach far wider, with rising sea levels and changing ocean currents.

"We are very negatively and disproportionately affected by climate change," said Cloutier. "The melting of (the ice) is creating not only inconvenience but real issues of livelihoods that are at stake where safety and security have become a remarkable challenge for us."

From North to South

Ölverschutzung in Libanon UN Achim Steiner
UNEP's Steiner does not see any good newsImage: AP

The report also highlighted threats to people in non-arctic areas of the world stating that "impacts are likely to include significant changes in the availability of water supplies for drinking and agriculture, rising sea levels affecting low-lying coasts and islands."

"Melting ice and snow are also likely to increase hazards including avalanches and floods from the build-up of potentially unstable glacial lakes. These can burst their ice and soil dams, sending walls of water down valleys," said Steiner in his remarks in Tromso.

This year World Environment Day falls on the eve of the Group of Eight Summit. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is hosting the meeting, has put climate change on the top of the agenda.

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