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Warming In The Arctic Could Have Far-Reaching Consequences For U.S. And Planet

New Study from World Wildlife Fund Says Melting Ice Likely to Change Weather Patterns, Flood Coastal Areas and Accelerate Climate Change

WASHINGTON, DC, September 2, 2009 – Warming in the Arctic will likely have far-reaching impacts throughout the world, resulting in a sharp increase in harmful greenhouse gases and significant shifts in global weather patterns that could disrupt the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people.

That’s according to a new study released today by the World Wildlife Fund, which found that Arctic sea ice is melting at a faster than expected pace, with major implications well beyond the region. These include changes in temperature and precipitation patterns in North America and Europe that will affect agriculture, forestry and water supplies.

“This is not about the Arctic, it’s what the Arctic means to the rest of the world and this study paints a truly sobering picture of the future if it continues to warm and melt,” said Dr. Martin Sommerkorn, “Warming in the Arctic will have negative consequences not just for polar bears, but for people across America and throughout the world. Simply put, if we do not keep the Arctic cold enough, people across the world will suffer the effects.”

With sea ice expected to recede to near-record levels later this month, the study, Arctic Climate Feedbacks: Global Implications, found growing evidence that some of the anticipated impacts on the atmosphere have already emerged. The report also predicts that the negative effects of Arctic warming could make global climate change more severe than indicated by other recent projections, including those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 assessment.

“The planet’s alarm system is blaring loudly and we need to wake up and take action,” said Keya Chatterjee, acting director of climate change with WWF-US.  “We need to pass legislation in the U.S. and secure a global treaty to cut our emissions now and prepare for the rapidly emerging consequences of climate change.”

The Arctic’s frozen soils and wetlands store twice as much carbon as is held in the atmosphere, as warming trends continue, soils will increasingly thaw and release carbon dioxide and methane  into the atmosphere as, at a significantly faster pace than previously predicted. Levels of atmospheric methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas, have been increasing rapidly for the past two years, and many believe the increase is driven by the thawing Arctic.

The report also concludes that sea-levels will very likely rise by more than one meter by 2100 -- more than twice the amount given in the IPCC’s 2007 assessment. The associated flooding of coastal regions will affect more than a quarter of the world’s population.

In December 2009, the governments of 191 countries will meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, for the final round of negotiations for a new global agreement on climate change. WWF has joined with other NGOs to produce a model climate treaty for Copenhagen that gives the world a blueprint for achieving the kind of emissions cuts needed to likely avoid arctic feedbacks.

Read more about the report.

NOTE:

  • A videotaped interview with Dr. Sommerkorn, and clips from an accompanying multi-media presentation are available for download from http://www.divshare.com/folder/587835-7d0
  • The model climate treaty and the Arctic Climate Feedbacks: Global Implications report are available at http://www.panda.org/arctic
  • Last week, WWF launched a national public awareness campaign to raise awareness of the impacts of climate change in the United States and promote passage of climate legislation by Congress.  For more information and to view ads visit www.actforourfuture.org.