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2008-9-16 (Tue)WWF: Melting Arctic adds urgency to climate deal 
OSLO, Norway - Data showing Arctic sea ice may reach its lowest level on record this summer underscores the need for governments to speed up talks on a new climate pact, the Worldwide Fund for Nature said Monday.

The WWF said observations on ice coverage and thickness pointed toward a record low for the second year in a row, continuing a "catastrophic" trend that could threaten polar wildlife and accelerate global warming.

"If you take reduced ice thickness into account, there is probably less ice overall in the Arctic this year than in any other year since monitoring began," said Martin Sommerkorn, senior climate adviser of the WWF's Arctic program.

"This is also the first year that the Northwest Passage over the top of North America, and the Northeast Passage over the top of Russia, are both free of ice," he said.

The U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center said earlier this month that Arctic sea ice coverage was the second lowest on record, and could break last year's low mark before the season is over. Satellite measurements began in 1979.

Last month, a scientist at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, reported that a chunk of ice shelf nearly the size of Manhattan broke away from Ellesmere Island in Canada's northern Arctic, another dramatic indication of how warmer temperatures are changing the polar frontier.

"There are already signs that species such as polar bears are experiencing negative effects as climate change erodes the ice platform on which they rely," Sommerkorn said. "These changes are also affecting the peoples of the Arctic whose traditional livelihoods depend on healthy ecosystems."

Arctic ice melts in summer and refreezes in winter. But over the years, more of the ice is lost to the sea with less of it recovered in winter. While ice reflects the sun's heat, the open ocean absorbs more heat and the melting accelerates warming in other parts of the world.

"As that ice goes, Arctic waters absorb more heat, adding to global warming," Sommerkorn said. "This is not just an Arctic problem, it is a global problem, and it demands a global response."

The group said governments must accelerate climate talks to ensure that a new deal to replace the Kyoto treaty on greenhouse gas emissions can be agreed on at a U.N. summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December 2009.
 

 
2008-9-15 (Mon)Thousands of Australia's koalas felled by land-clearing: WWF 
SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian koalas are dying by the thousands as a result of land clearing in the country's northeast, while millions of birds and reptiles are also perishing, conservation group WWF said Sunday.

The environmental body warned that unless urgent action was taken to stop trees being felled, some species would be pushed to the brink of extinction.

In an annual statement, Queensland state last week revealed that 375,000 hectares of bush were cleared in 2005-06 -- a figure WWF said would have resulted in the deaths of two million mammals.

Among those that perished as a result of loss of habitat would have been 9,000 tree-hugging koalas, WWF Australia spokesman Nick Heath said.

"It's a horrifying figure," Heath told AFP. "Two million mammals and that's all sorts of kangaroos, wallabies. We couldn't come to an exact figure on the birds, but I would say it would be over five million."

Heath said WWF's figures were based on earlier scientific assessments of animal density in each area of the state combined with the amount of land cleared over the 2005-2006 period.

He said the animals that died in the largest numbers were reptiles, including lizards and turtles.

Of particular concern was the impact on the koala, an iconic marsupial found only in Australia and which is most populous in Queensland state.

"There is scientific debate about whether koalas are on the verge of extinction or not... I don't want to enter into that debate," Heath said.

"All I say is, whether they are endangered or not, killing 9,000 koalas is unacceptable.

"People want koalas to exist, they don't want them to be on the endangered list. And if we kill 9,000 a year, even if they are not on the endangered list now, they will be if we don't stop."

Heath said that turning native bush into grazing paddocks meant that many of the animals killed died in fires set by farmers to clear debris after bulldozers cut down the trees.

"So these animals die horrific deaths," he said. "They are either dead from being run over or falling from a tree, or if they survive that, they are burnt alive."

The Queensland government has set up a task force to help conserve koala populations amid greater urban development in the state's southeast.
 

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