A new comprehensive report on the environment dramatically declares that global warming is bringing profound changes, and must be addressed urgently regarding causes and consequences. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change announced Sept. 27 that comprehensive evidence indicates most global warming since 1950 has occurred because of polluting human activities.
The panel, established in 1988 by the United Nations and World Meteorological Organization in 1988, in 2007 had made a preliminary case that humans -- rather than purely natural causes -- played a central role in recent climate change.
The new report strongly confirms the worldwide trends outlined in the earlier report. Specifically, heat trapped by greenhouse gases over time is raising temperatures worldwide. This in turn is melting polar ice formations, heating and raising water levels of the oceans and inland seas, and changing the atmosphere.
The rapid accumulation of gases requires immediate action and collective global response, those leading the research emphasize. Among them is Achim Steiner, UN under-secretary-general and executive director of the organization's environment program.
Melting polar ice is rapidly revealing enormous mineral deposits previously unavailable for exploitation, in turn changing political dynamics within and among nations. China is emerging as a major investor.
Russia, spearheaded by President Vladimir Putin, now plays a principal international leadership role. Simultaneous with the release of the new report, the Third International Arctic Forum was held in the far northern town of Salekhard. Speaking there Sept. 27, Putin emphasized that protecting the Arctic environment must go hand in hand with orderly investment.
The Russian Geographical Society hosted two international conferences on the Arctic in 2010. More than 400 scientists and other scholars, investors, government representatives and others were brought together.
But the Kremlin has darker dimensions, demonstrated by last month's arrest of 30 people aboard the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, protesting a Gazprom oil rig in the Pechora Sea. All, including journalists, have been charged with piracy.
Environmental and territorial conflicts can be expected to multiply. Disputes have aligned Russia against Canada and Denmark regarding control of the Lomonosov Ridge, most of which is in international waters.
Other nations involved in such disagreements include Finland, Iceland, Sweden and the United States. Under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, a nation can claim resources beyond a 200-mile limit if a direct continuous continental shelf can be established.
By contrast, the U.S. government is disengaged. President Barack Obama's soaring rhetoric regarding the global environment contrasts with absence of action.
There is instructive, encouraging history regarding international Arctic cooperation and U.S. involvement. International Polar Years -- collaborative efforts to research the polar regions -- took place in the early 1880s, 1932-1933 and 2007-2009. The first two inspired the International Geophysical Year of 1957-1958, during the height of the Cold War. American scientific and government leadership was instrumental in launching and successfully completing this comprehensive global research and policy enterprise.
That 1950s enterprise led to numerous scientific achievements, including discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts, two zones that encircle the earth and contain fast-moving, high-energy particles.
Demilitarization of Antarctica, initiated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, was a historic accomplishment.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should lead by publicizing the new report's conclusions. Environmental challenges by definition are global, not national. Ban is from South Korea, a nation uniquely spanning the global rich-poor divide. International law provides a foundation for environmental protection along with resource development.
Absence of American leadership only underscores the importance of the world body's.
(Arthur Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis.)