Group: Global Warming Could Kill Off Polar Bears

Some arctic animals, including polar bears and species of seal, face the possibility of extinction in just decades because of global warming, the World Wide Fund for Nature (search) said Sunday.

Life for indigenous people in the Arctic also would change radically unless the world "takes drastic action to reduce climate change," the Fund said.

"If we don't act immediately the Arctic will soon become unrecognizable" said Tonje Folkestad (search), a WWF climate change expert. "Polar bears will be consigned to history, something that our grandchildren can only read about in books."

By 2026, the earth could be an average 3.6 degrees warmer than it was in 1750, according to research commissioned for WWF to be presented at a Feb. 1-3 conference on climate change in Exeter, England.

The area covered by summer sea ice in the Arctic is decreasing by 9.2 percent per decade and "will disappear entirely by the end of the century" unless the situation changes, WWF said.

This would threaten the existence of polar bears and seals that live on the ice, in turn removing a major source of food for indigenous communities who hunt them, such as the Eskimos (search) in North America and Saami (search) in Scandinavia.

WWF said it was calling on participants at the Exeter conference to send a clear message to governments of the world's leading industrialized nations, meeting in Britain later this year.

"If we are to ensure that unique ecosystems like the Arctic are not lost, the G8 meeting must take drastic action to reduce climate change," said Catarina Cardoso, a WWF expert on sustainable energy, adding that should include a commitment to keeping global average temperatures down.

The United States is the only country in the Arctic region that has not signed the Kyoto Protocol (search), which takes effect next Feb. 16 and sets mandatory targets for industrial nations to reduce emissions by 2012. Russia ratified the U.N.-sponsored accord in November 2004.