Campaigners are concerned that a Scottish-led bid to tap into billions of barrels of oil and gas trapped under ice off Greenland could have a huge environmental impact and is further evidence that climate change is not being tackled effectively.

Edinburgh-based Cairn Energy controls or has a stake in six of 10 blocks leased by Greenland and has plans to conduct seismic testing this year before deciding in 2009 whether to drill wells.

Experts believe that melting sea ice, which is said to be caused by climate change, has paved the way for the new interest in drilling for oil. Thick, year-round ice has made exploration impossible until recently but, as temperatures have risen in the Arctic, more and more of Greenland's territorial waters are being exposed.

The island is setting a delicate balance for itself as both a haven for environmentalists looking for evidence of global warming and as the latest frontier for oil and gas companies.

Greenpeace has warned that rises in sea levels, caused by melting ice from Greenland and other glaciers across the world, is already threatening some of the most vulnerable communities.

There are also environmental concerns for Greenland, a fragile habitat for polar bears, whales, walruses, and seabirds.

A Greenpeace source said: "The oil companies' very existence there is proof in itself that action on global warning has not been effective enough.

"Clearly there is concern over the fact that this is an area that was once unable to be exploited by oil companies because of ice and now it can be due to the melting. There are also clear environmental concerns in what is a sensitive area as well as climate change concerns here that have to be addressed."

While Greenland's energy sector stands to benefit enormously from climate change, the island's leaders are treating potential oil reserves and melting ice as two separate issues.

Greenland's Bureau of Mines and Petroleum last week awarded oil and gas leases for tracts off its west coast, which is already free of ice for at least five months of the year. The agency is now in the early stages of planning a similar sale for the north-east and north-west coasts.

A spokeswoman for Cairn Energy said: "The company has operated in many areas that face economic, social and environmental challenges.

"We have a responsibility to understand these challenges, identify the potential impact of our activities and, through engaging with stakeholders, look for opportunities for mutual benefit."

Warming seas CLIMATE change is having a significant impact on our marine environment, according to a new report yesterday.

The Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership report card 2007-08 highlights how much it has affected Scotland's marine environment.

The report showed that 2006 was the second warmest year for UK coastal waters since records began in 1870.

The impacts of climate change on the commercial services provided by our seas will also be significant, it said.

Sea-level rise, flooding, storms and bigger waves will affect ports and shipping.

Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment Richard Lochhead said: "We will shortly be publishing our consultation on proposals for a Scottish Climate Change Bill, including a mandatory target to achieve an 80% reduction in Scottish emissions by 2050."