The purpose of the visit to the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard was to witness the effects of climate change first-hand and to be briefed by researchers. Researchers have warned that the Arctic ice is melting faster than initial estimates. If the current pace continues, the Polar Sea could be virtually ice-free in 10-20 years. The melting of the ice could also lead to increased temperatures in the Arctic and globally, thus heightening the risk of quick and dangerous changes in the world’s climate.
The journey to the ice rim took longer than originally planned when plans to fly by helicopter from Ny-Ålesund had to be abandoned due to poor weather. Instead the UN chief was treated to a nine hour journey into the icy wilderness aboard the Norwegian coast guard vessel KV Svalbard. The ship connected with the ice edge at 80 degrees north.
At the ice rim, the Secretary-General Ban and Mr. Solheim visited the ‘Lance’, a research and expedition vessel of the Norwegian Polar Institute, where they were given different demonstrations of how temperature and ice-thickness are measured.
With less than a hundred days to go before the global climate talks in Copenhagen, Secretary-General Ban expressed grave concern about the pace of the ice melting,
- Standing on the Polar Ice [Rim], I feel the power of nature, and at the same time, a sense of vulnerability. This is a common resource for human beings, and we must do all we can to preserve this Arctic ice. The Arctic is ground zero for analysing the impact of climate change. I'm sending [a message] from the Arctic to all world citizens, particularly world leaders, to draw urgent attention to take action immediately, to preserve Planet Earth, to preserve all that we can do to help our succeeding generations to be able to live in a hospitable environment in a sustainable way, Ban Ki-moon said.
Erik Solheim thanked the Secretary-General for dedicating so much attention to the fight against man-made climate changes.
- We are witnessing a dramatic meltdown on the North Pole, from Greenland to Svalbard, to the glaciers in the Himalayas and Andes mountain ranges. It is of momentous significance that Mr. Ban came to speak to the world from its iced rim, and I appreciate Mr. Ban’s endeavour to use his experience in important conversations with world leaders in the lead up to Copenhagen, Mr Solheim said.