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Thu Oct 23 06:32:44 SAST 2014

'Ice loss, weather extremes show climate risk'

Sapa-AFP | 19 February, 2013 00:14
The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, in the midst of their ICESCAPE mission, retrieves supplies dropped by parachute in the Arctic Ocean
Scientists on the thinning Arctic ice
Image by: NASA / Reuters

The record shrinkage of Arctic sea ice last year and a spell of catastrophic droughts, floods and storms highlight the risk of climate change, the UN Environment Programme said yesterday.

In an annual review of the world's environment, that coincided with ministerial-level talks in Nairobi, the UN group also warned of an alarming surge in elephant and rhino poaching.

In 2012, summer sea ice in the Arctic covered a record low of 3.4million square kilometres, which was 18% below the previous recorded minimum in 2007, and 50% below the average in the 1980s and 1990s, the UN group said.

Land ice in Greenland also showed signs of melting and permafrost in high latitudes was in retreat, it said.

"Changing environmental conditions in the Arctic, often considered a bellwether for global climate change, have been an issue of concern for some time, but as of yet this awareness has not translated into urgent action," executive director Achim Steiner said.

He pointed to a rush to extract the oil and gas in the Arctic's seabed as the ice retreats and cautioned that the outcome could be even greater emissions of greenhouse gases.

"What we are seeing is that the melting of ice is prompting a rush for exactly the fossil-fuel resources that fuelled the melt in the first place," said Steiner.

"The rush to exploit these vast untapped reserves has consequences that must be carefully thought through by countries everywhere, given the global impacts and issues at stake," Steiner said.

The report also noted a string of weather disasters, of which the US bore the brunt, including its worst drought in decades as well as Hurricane Sandy, which flooded parts of New York City and the coastline of New Jersey.

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