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RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - One hundred celebrities backed a Greenpeace campaign against oil drilling and unsustainable fishing in the Arctic on Thursday, as oil giant Shell prepares to start exploratory drilling in the region.
Paul McCartney, actor Robert Redford and British entrepreneur Richard Branson were among the celebrities demanding that the uninhabited region around the North Pole be protected from pollution, the environmental group Greenpeace said.
The campaign is pushing for countries to create a U.N. resolution that would establish a global sanctuary in the Arctic region and ban oil drilling and unsustainable fishing. A similar sanctuary in Antarctica was created 20 years ago when the mining industry was banned from operating there.
The stars' names will be the first hundred to be written on a scroll that will be deposited 2.5 miles below the ice of the North Pole when an additional million people sign the document, Greenpeace said.
Heads of state and environment ministers are meeting in Rio this week to try to agree on ways to ensure sustainable development that respects the environment. A draft text prepared by diplomats this week - which can still be amended - postponed an oceans protection plan that could establish a sanctuary in the area around the North Pole.
The Arctic region is especially vulnerable to the effects of global warming, experts say. As average global temperatures rise the ice melts, leading to rising sea levels, which could engulf low-lying countries.
Research from U.S. space agency NASA this week suggested that the Arctic ice cap could be losing around 15 to 17 percent of its mass per decade.
In the quest for new oil sources, Shell plans to start exploratory drilling at two offshore sites in the Alaskan Arctic this summer. Russian oil major Gazprom and Exxon Mobil Corp have signed a deal to prospect for oil in three areas of Russia's Arctic Kara Sea, estimated by Russia oil company Rosneft to hold 36 billion barrels of recoverable oil reserves.
Greenpeace protested against Arctic drilling by oil companies in April in Russia, when 23 people were detained by Russian police.
"A ban on offshore oil drilling and unsustainable fishing would be a huge victory against the forces ranged against this precious region and the four million people who live there. And a sanctuary in the uninhabited area around the pole would in a stroke stop the polluters colonizing the top of the world without infringing on the rights of indigenous communities," said Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo.
Reporting By Nina Chestney; Editing by Vicki Allen