Global conservation group WWF called on Tuesday for a moratorium on all new oil exploration in the Arctic, insisting that the environmental risks to the sensitive eco system there were too great.

"The WWF is formally calling for a moratorium on new oil and gas development in the Arctic," Neil Hamilton, director of the group's Arctic programme, said at a conference in northern Norway on environmental challenges in the polar region.


Responding to oil and gas industry claims that the risks can be minimised, he insisted that the special conditions in the Arctic, including little natural light, extreme cold, strong winds and little to no visibility, could trip up emergency plans and increase the risk of oil spills.

While acknowledging that industry players had made efforts to improve security, he maintained that "an effective response (to oil spills in the region) cannot be achieved because technologies are not available or effective."

"There is no good way to clean up the oil in sea ice," he said, pointing out that "the Arctic offers the (world's) highest level of ecological sensitivity and the lowest level of capacity to clean up after an accident."

The polar regions are the most sensitive to the effects of global warming, with the area surrounding the North Pole having experienced a temperature hike of about two degrees Celsius over the past century, or double the average global temperature increase during the same period.

In December, US scientists reported that the Arctic ice cap was rapidly melting and during last summer alone had lost an area of ice the size of the state of Alaska.

The researchers predicted the Arctic Ocean could be completely ice-free during the three summer months by 2013.