Arctic needs protection from resource rush as ice melts -UN body

Mon Feb 18, 2013 7:18am EST
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* More human activity threatens wildlife, ecosystems, populations

* Arctic Council has crucial role to play to manage activity

LONDON Feb 18 (Reuters) - The Arctic needs to be better protected from a rush for natural resources as melting ice makes mineral and energy exploration easier, the United Nations' Environment Programme (UNEP) said.

The UNEP Year Book 2013 was released on Monday to accompany the opening of talks in Nairobi attended by environment ministers or senior officials from around 150 nations, aimed at making the world economy greener at a time of weak economic growth.

"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 Achim Steiner, U.N. Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director.

"As the UNEP Year Book 2013 points out, the rush to exploit these vast untapped reserves have consequences that must be carefully thought through by countries everywhere, given the global impacts and issues at stake."

Last September, Arctic sea ice reached its lowest level in the satellite record, which dates back to 1979, and scientists say there could be an ice-free summer by 2030-2040.

The melt is largely blamed on rising greenhouse gas emissions, short-lived pollutants such as soot, or black carbon, and variations in atmosphere and ocean currents.

The Greenland ice cap has also been melting, permafrost on the tundra has thawed and there is less snow on land and on glaciers.   Continued...