March 12, 2009 11:00 ET

WWF-Canada: Polar Bear States Obliged to Take Action on Climate Change at Historic Meeting

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - March 12, 2009) - An agreement signed in 1973 obliges the five Arctic states with polar bear populations to take action on climate change at a meeting next week, WWF said today.

For the first time in more than 25 years, the Contracting Parties to the 1973 international Agreement for the Conservation of Polar Bears and Their Habitats - Canada, Russia, US, Greenland/Denmark, and Norway - will come together for a formal meeting under the agreement. The meeting, which is hosted by the Norwegian government, will take place in Tromso, Norway, 17-19 March.

The original historic agreement focused on threats especially from heavy hunting practices that had decimated polar bear populations worldwide. It also committed the states to preservation of the bears' habitat. Sea ice is a critical part of that habitat, providing a platform for the bears to hunt seals.

WWF urges delegates next week to acknowledge that preserving this Arctic icon will depend on addressing today's main threat -- climate change. Two-thirds of the world's 20 to 25,000 polar bears will be lost during the next 50 years because of climate change, according to recent comprehensive analyses by the U.S. Geological Survey and the World Conservation Union.

"You cannot protect polar bears without addressing global warming," says WWF polar bear coordinator Geoff York. "It is widely accepted that we need to keep the global temperature increase below 2 degrees in order to avoid irreversible climate change. The most important action we can take to help preserve polar bears is to slow the rate of climate change, and ultimately to stop it so that their habitat does not entirely disappear."

Arctic sea ice is disappearing at an alarming rate during the summers, and scientists say the summer ice may disappear entirely sometime between 2013 and 2040.

WWF has worked around the world's Arctic regions for over 30 years and its polar bear work is led by experts in the field. WWF is the only environmental NGO active in all of the Arctic countries and is a permanent observer to the Arctic Council.

"Delegates at the Tromso meeting must agree to push their respective countries to commit to urgent and effective climate change action. Anything less would be an abdication of the responsibilities of these nations under the polar bear agreement," emphasizes York.

WWF expects the representatives of these five polar bear nations to formally call for urgent global actions to significantly reduce the amount of greenhouse gases produced, and show strong leadership internationally to help achieve a fair, effective and science based global climate change agreement in Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2009.

They also must agree to integrate the current and likely future impacts of climate change in all management and planning mechanisms affecting polar bears and their key habitats, and commit to sustainable and long term financing mechanisms for polar bear research and management.

WWF will present at next week's meeting a draft range-wide Action Plan for polar bears, highlighting the necessary conservation measures that will help polar bears without hurting people who live with the bears, and has encouraged the states to adopt this plan.

"The meeting in Tromso is an historic and time-limited opportunity to take action to address the rising challenges that face the Arctic today," says York. "The trend can be turned if governments act now to ensure wise and proactive management of these ecosystems on which both polar bears and we depend."

The Arctic may be the single most important region on Earth given the key role it has in regulating the world's climate and storing carbon. The polar bear is the top predator of a fragile ecosystem where small changes can have dramatic consequences far beyond the region itself.

B-roll, Photos (both hig & Low res) & Supporting documentation available for download at; http://www.divshare.com/folder/508282-6d1

Web quality video available from; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQOmsa5QbII

A recording of the North American briefing will be available after the briefing is finished.

About WWF

WWF is one of the world's largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with almost five million supporters and a global network active in more than 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.

Contact Information

  • Europe:
    WWF International Arctic Programme
    Lena Eskeland
    Communications Officer
    Email: leskeland@wwf.no
    Kyle Ferguson
    Manager, Communications
    (416) 484-7732
    Email: KFerguson@wwfcanada.org