US experts have described the break-up of the 200-metre thick Larsen B ice shelf, which has a surface area of 3,250 square kilometres, as "the largest single event in a series of retreats by shelves in the Peninsula over the last 30 years".
"This stunning development warns of the dangers of governments doing too little to halt global warming," said WWF climate scientist, Dr Lara Hansen. "The very minimum they must do is ratify the Kyoto climate treaty. Kyoto is currently the world's only defence against global warming but it only scratches the surface. Events like this in the Antarctic underline that all countries need to go way beyond Kyoto in cutting global warming pollution. It's time to put bickering and short-term interests aside."
There are high hopes that the Kyoto Protocol will become international law this year. The European Union made a formal decision two weeks ago to ratify the treaty by 1 June, and Japan is also moving towards ratification. All now depends on support from Russia and other big polluters such as Canada and Poland. The United States has rejected the treaty despite being the world's largest producer of gases that contribute to climate change.
"People will ask scientists whether this event can be ascribed to global warming," said Dr Hansen. "That misses the point. There is no shortage of evidence that global warming is already affecting hundreds of physical and biological systems on every continent around the world. However, the visibility and sheer scale of what is happening in Antarctica should provide a wake-up call to policymakers."
To find out more about climate change, the Kyoto Protocol and what you can do to help, visit the WWF Go for Kyoto website: www.panda.org/goforkyoto