Industrialization threatening wildlife in Arctic: UNEP.
Up to 80% of the Arctic will be affected by human activities by 2050 if industrialization in one of the world's last wildernesses continues at current rates, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) said Tuesday.
Scientists warn that the Arctic's rich and abundant wildlife will suffer greatly due to mining, oil and gas exploration, and the building of ports, roads and other developments, with birds and larger mammals at greatest risk, the agency said in a statement obtained in Nairobi.
''At the turn of this new millennium less than 15% of the Arctic's land was heavily impacted by human activity and infrastructure,'' said Klaus Toepfer, executive director of UNEP. ''However, if exploration for oil, gas and minerals, and developments such as hydroelectric schemes and timber extraction continue at current rates, more than half of the Arctic will be seriously threatened in less than 50 years,'' he said.
Officials said the findings, based on a pioneering new method of mapping the true extent of environmental impacts, were released Tuesday at a meeting held in Finland to mark 10 years of Arctic Environmental Cooperation.
''Our findings show that even with stable rates of industrial growth...an estimated 50% to 80% of the Arctic will reach critical levels of human-induced disturbance by 2050,'' said Svein Tveitdal of GRID-Arendal, UNEP's key Arctic center which compiled the new report.
According to the findings, 40% of the region's wildlife and ecosystems will be critically disturbed by 2050 if growth occurs at half the levels seen since 1940 and 1990. If infrastructure growth accelerates, doubling or increasing by 200% over the same period, 90% of the Arctic will suffer significant disturbance by 2050.
The study shows that Arctic roads quickly reduce the numbers of reindeer and caribou 5 kilometers from a highway, while the populations of predators such as wolves and bears are affected at 2 km from development and birds just 1 km.
''By 2050 we can foresee fewer migratory birds and mammals like Arctic foxes and reindeer but more gulls, red foxes and crows,'' said Dr. Christian Nellemann of the Norwegian Institute of Nature Research.
''Basically, humankind's interference in the delicate ecological balance of the Arctic will allow scavengers and marauders to take over the scene at the expense of more specialized birds and mammals, which will decline and even, in some cases, disappear,'' he said.