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NNSL Photo/graphic

A family walks along receding sea ice on the Arctic Ocean last spring. Scientists warn rising global temperatures could be catastrophic to traditional activities. - NNSL file photo

North faces dramatic changes as planet warms

Andrew Raven
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 12/05) - Premier Joe Handley joined a delegation of Northern leaders, scientists and elders in Montreal last week to press for international action to slow global warming.

Last Tuesday was Arctic Day at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, attended by delegates from 180 countries.

"The world is a mine and the North is a canary," Handley said Tuesday. "The land is literally melting beneath our feet.

"By ourselves, none of us can do anything about the weather or climate change. But together, we can and must act to control the consequences of human activity on the global climate."

In Montreal, one expert predicted the Arctic could warm 7-9 degrees Celcius during the next century. Dr. Robert Corell, a fellow at the American Meteorological Society, said those findings come from one of the most comprehensive studies on climate change, released last month.

"The warming of the planet is (happening) here and now," Corell said Friday during a telephone interview with News/North.

"This is not meant to be a horror story," he said about the dire predictions.

"These are the best projections we have available."

Corell called the Arctic a bellwether for the rest of the planet. The Northwest Territories, Alaska and the Russian region of Kamchatka have already begun to experience the effects of global warming, he said. The temperature here is warming five to 10 times faster than the rest of the planet.

Some of the changes already visible include:

* the loss of ice cover in the Beaufort Sea;

* the introduction of southern species, especially birds, that were limited to areas below the 60th parallel;

* a winter road season that is about 40 per cent shorter that it was in 1985; and

* the thawing of permafrost, which can cause streets, building foundations and pipelines to buckle.

The 30 industrialized countries that signed the Kyoto Protocol, entered the Montreal conference with an eye towards setting emissions guidelines for the second phase of the agreement, which begins in 2012.

The landmark 1997 accord committed the world's richest nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions-which trap heat near the earth's surface causing temperatures to rise-by five per cent between 2008-2012.

"Kyoto is a baby step," said Doug Ritchie, a program director with Ecology North, a Yellowknife based environmental group. "We need to make adult steps... and soon."