March 19, 2009 09:47 ET

WWF-Canada: Canada Reluctantly Joins With Arctic Nations and Takes Important First Step Towards Saving Polar Bears

TROMSO, NORWAY--(Marketwire - March 19, 2009) - Five nations committed by treaty to conserve polar bears have come up with a resolution linking the future of the species to urgent global action on climate change.

"We are very encouraged by the final declaration from this meeting," says Geoff York, polar bear coordinator for WWF International's Arctic Programme.

"We were concerned that some countries were lagging behind the others in their commitment to dealing with climate change, but ultimately, the parties recognized climate change as the primary threat to the future well-being of polar bears," continued York. "They also recognized formally, "the urgent need for an effective global response that will address the challenges of climate change", to be addressed through such a mechanism as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change."

"Canada, with two thirds of the world's polar bears, has a special duty to help solve the climate crisis," said Dr. Peter Ewins, Director, Species Conservation, WWF-Canada. "All eyes will now be on Environment Minister Prentice after the Canadian delegation was severely criticized by international polar bear experts for not doing enough. Finally, it now seems that the Minister has reluctantly agreed that climate change is affecting polar bear habitat, the first step in taking strong action to protect it."

The five Arctic nations (Canada, Norway, Denmark -Greenland, Russia, USA) signed a binding 1973 Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears that includes provisions to protect polar bears and their habitat.

The Norwegian government played a key role in bringing the parties together, and in setting high expectations for the meeting. Erik Solheim, Environment Minister of Norway told Norwegian television, "It would be an amazing crime against future generations if we did not save the polar bear."

The meeting made some other important advances. It has agreed to come up with a circumpolar action plan for the management of bears, and to formally designate the Polar Bear Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) as the scientific advisory body to the Agreement. These were both measures proposed by WWF in advance of the meeting.

"Although we are generally very pleased with the outcome of the meeting, this is by no means the end of the story - it is the start on the path to polar bear survival," says York. "The real proof of this new commitment to taking urgent and effective action on climate change is what leaders of these nations will commit to later this year. Ministers from these five countries are meeting in this same town toward the end of April at a meeting of the Arctic Council, and have a golden opportunity then to outline their national commitment to climate change."

Ultimately, the polar bear nations must join with other countries at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen in December 2009 to sign an effective global deal on climate change that will save the polar bears' Arctic sea ice habitat, along with the entire ice ecosystem.

This press release and associated material can be found on www.panda.org.

WWF- World Wide Fund For Nature (also known as World Wildlife Fund)

Contact Information

  • WWF International Arctic Programme
    Clive Tesar
    Head of Communications
    (+47) 92 62 30 30
    Email: ctesar@wwf.no
    Kyle Ferguson
    Manager, Communications
    (416) 484-7732 or Cell: (416) 819-5631
    Email: kferguson@wwfcanada.org