Polar bears and penguins 'just tip of climate change iceberg'



Posted on 06 April 2009  | 
King penguins on South Georgia Island, Antarctica
© WWF / Fritz POLKINGEnlarge
New evidence from the North and South Poles indicates that time is running out for the world’s leaders to respond to climate change.

As ministers from Arctic Council and Antarctic Treaty states hold their first ever joint meeting in Washington on April 6 celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Antarctic Treaty, WWF is challenging the ministers to mark the occasion by affirming their commitment to climate change action.

The conservation organisation provided the ministers with compelling recent evidence from both the north and south poles that clearly demonstrates global temperature increases must be kept well under two degrees Celsius.

“A global average temperature rise of 2 degrees is clearly too much for the poles,” says Rob Nicoll, Manager of WWF’s Antarctic and Southern Oceans Initiative.

“Scientists are already unpleasantly surprised at how quickly the impacts of warming such as sea ice loss are showing up in the polar regions, exceeding recent predictions.”

Global average warming due to climate change since the late 1800s is showing severe impacts at less than one degree, as the Arctic is warming at about twice the global average and parts of the Antarctic are also outstripping the global average.

The polar regions themselves have profound and not yet fully understood impacts on climate globally, and there are fears that polar tipping points could trigger abrupt change around the world.

A forthcoming report on Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment from the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research is expected to up previous estimates on Antarctica’s expected substantial contributions to sea level rises.

Marine food chains of global significance are also under threat from warming in the Antarctic. “Ice shelves the size of small countries are crumbling away and the latest evidence from the Antarctic is showing that the effects of global warming there are increasing in magnitude,” said Mr Nicoll.

“The penguins may feel it first, but the rest of us won’t be far behind.”

The warming of the Antarctic is not yet as acute as the Arctic, but it is yet a further indication that the meltdown of our polar caps continues apace. If world leaders fail to act on this information the effects will be calamitous.

“The world is caught in a polar pincer movement,” said Neil Hamilton, Director of WWF International’s Arctic Programme.

“What is happening at the poles will control the world’s climate. If we do not stop the poles from melting, the whole world will feel it, in the form of runaway warming and rising waters.”

Right now the Catlin Arctic Survey expedition is sampling the thickness of Arctic sea ice. The expedition, partly sponsored by WWF, is likely to confirm scientists’ fears that the older, thicker ice is disappearing. This has led them to predict that the summer sea ice could disappear within a generation, leading to catastrophic consequences for the entire ecosystem, everything from single celled animals to whales.

“The Ministers meeting today in Washington have a special responsibility to the world,” said Mr Hamilton.

“They are the custodians of the poles, and this would be an opportunity for them to show the world that they are ready to step up and shoulder their responsibility to keep the poles frozen, by committing to taking urgent and effective action at the Copenhagen climate meeting this December.”

Please note: WWF will hold a briefing for Washington reporters immediately outside the State Department once the ministerial is over. There will also be two teleconference briefings for reporters outside Washington, details of these are on a separate media advisory. Reporters who have not received the advisory can contact the people listed below.


For further information:

Joe Pouliot, Director of Climate and Policy Communications, WWF US
Cell: 202-476-9919
Email: joe.pouliot@wwfus.org

Clive Tesar, Head of Communications, WWF International Arctic Programme

Tel: (+1) 613-232-2535
Mobile: (+1) 613-883-3110
Email: ctesar@wwf.no

Dr. Neil T. M. Hamilton, Director, WWF International Arctic Programme.
Mobile +47 9300 5660
Email: Nhamilton@wwf.no

Rob Nicoll, Manager, WWF Antarctic and Southern Oceans Initiative

Mobile: +61438938764
Email: rnicoll@wwf.org.au

More background is available at panda.org/arctic.
King penguins on South Georgia Island, Antarctica
© WWF / Fritz POLKING Enlarge

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