11/24/2004

Peril of Arctic warming comes to fore

The Arctic Council, a group of eight countries with Arctic territory, including the United States, is expected to issue recommendations on global warming Wednesday that will put the spotlight on a critical area where the U.S. is at odds with many of its allies

Blair action expected

In addition, British Prime Minister Tony Blair (news - web sites) will head the Group of Eight of industrialized nations next year. He is expected to make global warming a priority and to appeal to President Bush (news - web sites) on the issue.

The council's meeting this week in Reykjavik, Iceland, follows a stark report by the council on the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions on the Arctic, which is more vulnerable to global warming than other parts of the world. The Arctic Council's recommendations also come as some Republicans and Democrats in Congress are stepping up calls on the administration to take firmer action on global warming.

The council's 140-page report, four years in the making, warns of immense ice melts, a dramatic rise in ocean levels, the depletion of the Gulf Stream and other sea currents, wild fluctuations in weather patterns, increased ultraviolet radiation and wrenching dislocations in the food chain and habitat.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is a strong proponent of action on climate change, called the administration's performance on the issue "disgraceful" at a recent hearing. The administration "could do a much [better] job in telling the American people exactly the challenge we face here," he said.

It is not clear how far the Arctic Council will go in its proposals Wednesday. But the group operates by consensus, and no recommendation strongly opposed by the U.S. or another member is likely to survive.

The U.S. generally has been isolated from its allies in its reluctance to impose significant limits emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. But some environmentalists hope a flurry of activity on global warming will prod the White House into action.

"This clearly increases the pressure," said Katherine Silverthorn, director of the climate change program at the World Wildlife Fund. "Finally you have people saying, `Climate change is happening here and now. It's affecting American communities in the Arctic.' And you have McCain and others saying we need to do more."

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