UN warns of glacier meltdown

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The Independent Online

Glaciers are melting faster in southern South America and Alaska than in Europe and communities need to adapt their living habits to the meltdown, said a UN report released in Mexico Tuesday.

Many low-lying glaciers may disappear over the coming decades, with the northwest United States, southwest Canada and the Arctic also affected, according to the report compiled by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and scientists, presented at a UN climate summit in Cancun, Mexico.

Changes in rain patterns and shrinking rivers will reduce water as well as food supplies to many communities, the report said.

"Adaptation is crucial and urgently needed to assist people who will be affected," said John Crump, UNEP polar issues coordinator, at a news conference.

Though glaciers are shrinking overall worldwide, high levels of rain have actually increased the size of others, including in western Norway and New Zealand's South Island, the report said.

Warmer temperatures due to climate change were a major factor in the rapidly changing glaciers, as well as possibly the deposit of soot, reducing the reflection of heat back into space, according to the report.

Norway on Tuesday pledged more than 12 million dollars to help one region where glaciers are melting - the Hindu Kush region in the Himalayas.

Madhav Karki, from the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), pointed to aerial pictures of glaciers which he said were shrinking some five to fifteen meters per year in the eastern Himalayas.

The five-year investment aims to help communities, mainly in India, Pakistan and China, to adapt to changes in the glaciers they depend on and investigate the changes, said Norwegian Environment Minister Erik Solheim.

"South Asia for me is probably the most vulnerable continent on the globe when it comes to climate change... Norway is at the opposite end of the spectrum," Solheim said.