SVALBARD, Norway, June 23, 2011 (ENS) - Today, on a warm day very close to the Arctic Circle, board members of the UN Foundation, including Founder and Chairman Ted Turner, got a close look at what effects climate change is having on the Arctic. After their annual Board of Directors meeting in Oslo, several directors traveled to Svalbard, the world's northernmost community. They journeyed up a fjord to the foot of a receding glacier with scientists from the Norwegian Polar Institute.
Turner told reporters on a teleconference today, "They pointed out to us while looking at the glacier that it is receding every year due to global climate change. The temperature here at the high latitudes changes more rapidly than it does in the temperate zones."
Based on observations to date, the scientists projected that this year the extent of Arctic sea ice will be smaller than it has ever been, even smaller than in the previous record low year of 2007.
Among the board members visiting Svalbard was Gro Harlem Brundtland, a physician who served three terms as Prime Minister of Norway in the 1980s and '90s, and then became director general of the World Health Organization.
As chair of the World Commission on Environment and Development in the 1980s, Brundtland created the concept of sustainable development and provided the momentum for the UN's 1992 Earth Summit. She now serves as a Special Envoy on Climate Change for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Brundtland told reporters on the call that the scientists informed the group that ocean waters have heated up over the past decade at least one degree Celsius to a depth of 1,000 meters. "This is a dramatic change in a short period of time due to the changes humanity is causing by how we are acting," Brundtland said.
Asked what can be done to convince and persuade climate skeptics and deniers to recognize what so many scientists know and are trying to communicate so urgently, Turner said, "That's a very good question. If we knew the answer to it, we'd already have an energy policy in this country," he said, referring to his home country of the United States.
"We just have to keep working as we're doing now to get as much publicity as we can for the facts," said Turner. "The evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of recognizing climate change."
"This is the most serious and complex problem humanity has ever faced, so it's easy to see how some people don't get it," said Turner. "We have to do all we can to convince and persuade the public of what the scientists tell us."
Brundtland said, "It is clear that action has been too slow, unbelievably slow - because you can take action."
"In 1991 we introduced a carbon tax on oil and gas production from the Norwegian continental shelf. We were warned that it would kill the oil and gas industry, but we showed the world. Our industry is fine," Brundtland said. "They improved the technology to cut the level of pollution per ton of oil extraction."
"I have difficulty understanding why the system has been so slow to move," she said. "We must continue to work with the private sector, not just with governments. The most progressive people in the private sector can help us to move forward. The UN Foundation is trying to promote this cooperation."
Timothy Wirth, the former U.S. senator from Colorado who now serves as president of the UN Foundation, said the impacts of climate change being felt across the United States this year will convince many people.
"While you can't predict exactly from the climate models what will happen, there has been an increase in drought, fires and flooding happening in the United States," Wirth said. "The dramatic climate impact is with us already. Slowly but surely people are going to connect the dots."
"Happily," said Wirth, "there are people like weather forecasters that have come together in a group to decide how they will explain climate change when talking about the weather. That will be extremely important. And we have to do a better job of helping the scientific community to get their facts out. We must mount an agressive program to go after the deniers, countering their untruths."
On Friday, the board members will join Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, for a visit to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The UN Foundation helped establish the Global Crop Diversity Trust, an effort supported by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, to establish a universal repository of the world's crop seeds.
The vault, which officially opened in February 2008, is designed to store duplicates of seeds from seed collections around the world. It was created to ensure access to crops should species be lost to climate change or new plant diseases, to help meet the needs of an expanding population, and to provide a back-up library of seeds should any of the world's seed collections be depleted.
The UN Foundation Board of Directors participated in New African Connections, a high-level conference in Oslo June 21-22 that explored creative solutions and partnerships in the areas of health care, finance and new technologies to advance development in Africa. Brundtland and Turner and fellow board member Kofi Annan of Ghana, who served as UN secretary-general from 1997 through 2006, were featured speakers on a keynote panel focusing on public-private partnerships and innovation in health.
"We've got to match 21st century innovation with smart partnerships if we are going to successfully address poverty, climate change and global health," said Wirth. "This week's meetings in Norway confirm not only how far we've come but how much we can do to harness the power of innovation."
The United Nations Foundation is committed to addressing the problem of climate change due to human activity by reducing its own carbon emissions and offsetting the emissions that cannot be eliminated.
Every year the foundation calculates its cumulative carbon dioxide emissions at our Washington, DC, and New York City offices and purchases an equivalent amount of carbon offsets from a reforestation project in the Sierra Gorda Mountains of Mexico.
The UN Foundation, a public charity, originated in 1998 when Turner, founder of the cable news network CNN, gave an historic $1 billion gift to support UN causes and activities and created the United Nations Foundation to administer the gift.