Every year since 1974, the United Nations has declared June 5th World Environment Day.  The theme of this year's series of events is "Melting Ice ? a Hot Topic?"  VOA's Paul Sisco reports.

The Earth's polar regions are frigid, forbidding environments, yet fascinating and exciting at the same time. They are also showing signs of stress.

The United Nations declared 2007 the "International Polar Year" to promote research at the North and South Poles and awareness about the effects of global warming on their ice packs.  To support that, the theme of this year's World Environment Day is "Melting Ice - A Hot Topic?"

Brennan Van Dyke is with the United Nations Environment Program. "World Environmental Day is a celebration that was approved over 30 years ago by the general assembly of the United Nations, its purpose is to raise awareness about environmental issues, to encourage political attention to those issues, and to spark individual action."

In an accompanying report from the United Nations, scientists estimate the Arctic is warming at twice the global rate, with sea ice retreating a little each of the last several years due mainly to global warming.

The Executive Director of the U.N.'s Environment Program, Achim Steiner, says, "The latest data that we have is truly of great concern to all of us, not least because of the implications for sea level rise.  Secondly, it's going to affect human beings. We need to understand how their lives, the basis of their lives are going to change fundamentally and in some cases disappear."

The polar ice sheets hold about 99 percent of the world's fresh water ice.  The report says the annual shrinking of the Greenland ice sheet doubled in the 1990s and continues to melt at a dramatic pace. Melting ice sheets endanger hundreds of thousands of indigenous people and as well as plant and animal species.

Van Dyke says polar regions provide some of the earliest signs of climate change. "The collective actions of peoples all over the world have (a) tremendous impact on the Arctic regions.  And everyone can play a role in reducing the problems of climate change.  On our website, we call it WED for World Environment Day, we have the W.E.D. alphabet, 77 ways to celebrate, and it's 77 actions that an individual can take. And individual action matters, collective actions magnifies the impact and that's where the U.N. can come in."

A series of World Environment Day events are taking place around the world beginning June fifth. You can learn more about them and the critical role the Earth's Arctic regions play in the environment at the United Nations, World Environment Day website - www.unep.org.