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Greenland's ice melting faster than first feared - exposing millions more to flooding

One of Greenland's huge glaciers. Credit: ITV News/Jamie Roberton

Greenland's ice is melting faster than first feared - exposing tens of millions more people to a greater risk of flooding, according to a stark report from the world's leading climate scientists.

In what is described as the "most complete picture of Greenland ice loss to date", the major new study has painted a far bleaker picture of the consequences of climate change and its potentially devastating impact on communities, particularly those in low-lying coastal areas.

Researchers say Greenland is losing ice seven times faster than in the 1990s and is following the UN's "high-end climate warning scenario", the model which predicts the potential future effects of global warming.

The UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) has previously predicted that global sea levels will rise by 60 centimetres by the end of the century and leave 360 million people at risk of annual coastal flooding.

But if Greenland's ice continues to disappear at such a rate, scientists say it could add seven centimetres to that projection therefore place an additional 40 million people in jeopardy every year.

254 bn
the rate of ice loss in Greenland in the last decade - up from 33 bn in the 1990s
400m
the number of people who could be at risk of annual flooding events by the end of 2100
7.4
metres - Greenland's ice sheet holds enough water to raise global sea levels by this figure

The worrying assessment comes as government ministers continue to hold talks at the UN's annual climate conference in Madrid.

"Now is the time to act," Professor Andrew Shepherd, who led the study involving nearly 100 scientists from across 50 international organisations, told ITV News.

"The ice sheets are melting today - it is not a drill. They are causing sea levels to rise more quickly than we can deal with in the future. So we need to act on both fronts: to reduce as much as we can for future temperature changes and to prepare our coastal regions for a different future."

ITV News witnessed first-hand the rapid melting in Greenland in September, as part of our Earth on the Edge coverage. The rate of ice loss in Greenland in 2019 has been described as "exceptional" and could set a new record once the year is calculated.

Consequences of such rapid melting, Professor Shepherd warns, will be felt in Britain.

"People would be surprised to know how little sea level needs to change to cause coastal flooding.

"The polar ice sheets are at our doorstep thanks to the oceans; we are an island surrounded by the seas and as soon as an iceberg falls off Greenland or Antarctica it causes our coastlines to be at threat because the sea level rise is almost instant.

"We expect by 2100, that one million people in the UK will be experiencing annual floods in the country. We'll have to do something about that. Those changes won't happen in 2100 - they will happen progressively between now and then."

Ice losses from Greenland have made a significant contribution to sea level rise. Credit: ITV News