David Cameron visits Svalbard

The Conservatives’ leader, David Cameron, is visiting the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard this week to highlight the issues around global warming and see the effects it has on the shrinking glaciers on Norway's northernmost territory.

Cameron arrived in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, on Wednesday 19 April and is spending a couple of days there accompanied by representatives from the international environmental campaign group WWF. Cameron and his team will visit the Scott Turner glacier which has lost around half its mass over the last 100 years - the cause is believed to be global warming. He will also meet with Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre as well as scientists and the Governor of Svalbard.

During his stay, Cameron will hear that scientists at the University Centre in Svalbard predict that by 2100 temperatures there will have risen between 2.5C and 5C - an increase that would have a marked effect on both the glaciers and the wildlife. Samantha Smith, WWF's international Arctic programme director, who is leading the trip, told British newspaper The Observer that the Arctic is the 'ground zero' of climate change: 'The Arctic is warming two or three times faster than the rest of the world. We're starting to see unusual weather events in other parts of the world, but in the Arctic we have seen very dramatic changes right now and expect more in the future.'

WWF is the world's largest and most experienced independent conservation organisation with a global network working in more than 90 countries. It describes itself as a challenging, constructive, science-based organisation that addresses issues from the survival of species and habitats to climate change, sustainable business and environmental education. WWF is a charity dependent upon its five million supporters worldwide - some 90 per cent of its income derives from voluntary sources such as people and the business community. WWF has been active in the Arctic, and on Svalbard, for more than a decade, with one focus of its efforts being the impact of climate change on the polar bear. On Svalbard, the organisation funds a scientific programme that studies polar bears around the region using electronic collars, and also monitors their ongoing health.

The archipelago of Svalbard is located about halfway between the city of Tromsø on mainland Norway and the North Pole, between 74 and 81 degrees north, and 10 and 35 degrees east. Humans have hardly left their mark on it and most of this territory is still pristine, without roads or other signs of human intervention. The archipelago consists of islands of various sizes, the largest of which are Spitzbergen, Nordaustlandet, Edgeøy, Barentsøy and Prins Karls Forland. Its administrative city, Longyearbyen, has around 1700 inhabitants and is the northernmost place in the world that you can visit on a regular scheduled flight. The name Svalbard means "cold coast", and the first written mention of the archipelago appears in 12th century Icelandic texts. Around 60 per cent of the islands in the archipelago are covered by ice.

Even though people have been visiting Svalbard for years, it was not until 1990 that the Norwegian authorities permitted general tourism. Today there are daily flights, first-class hotels and restaurants and many exciting activities for visitors to Svalbard – it even has its own university.


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