© Steve Morello/WWF

Polar bear countries must do more to keep polar bears and people safe: Range States meet in Norway March 4-6, 2020

2 March 2020

Polar bear Arctic Climate Change Pan-Arctic Wildlife Communities

The governments of Canada, Greenland/Kingdom of Denmark, Norway, Russia and the US will meet in Svalbard this week to discuss their continuing cooperation to conserve and protect polar bears against the threat of climate change. WWF’s Arctic Programme has been invited to participate in the meeting of the five Range States (the countries where polar bear populations live).

In 2018, WWF’s Arctic Programme released a Scorecard assessing progress by the Range States in their implementation of The Circumpolar Action Plan for the Conservation of Polar Bears (CAP). The 10-year plan coordinates the implementation of commitments made by the Range States to polar bear conservation. Half-way through their plan, Range States are meeting in Longyearbyen from March 4-6 to review their progress and findings, and to discuss a way forward for the final five years of the CAP.

During the meeting, WWF’s Arctic Programme urges the Range States to:

  1. Prioritise the identification and protection of important habitats for polar bears across the Arctic, including future refugia. In places where the loss of Arctic sea ice habitat is greatest, polar bears are spending more time on land as they wait for sea ice to form. More mothers are making their dens along the coastline instead of the sea ice. These habitats will become increasingly important over the next several decades, as well as regions of the Arctic where summer sea ice is predicted to last longest. These areas should be identified using science and local, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and be protected from industrial threats and disturbances.
  2. Communicate with one voice about the threats and impacts of climate change on polar bears. Under the CAP, Range States have a special responsibility to speak with one voice to political leaders, policymakers and the public about the importance of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions for the conservation of polar bears. Since the CAP’s inception, the number of polar bear subpopulations in trouble has increased. There is an urgency for the Range States to clearly communicate those threats and to partner with outside organizations to amplify their message.
  3. Range States prioritise the collection and sharing of knowledge about conflicts between people and polar bears to facilitate successful, integrated, community-led management. Polar bears pose a huge danger to people living in the Arctic. Loss of sea ice means this threat will increase as polar bears spend more time on land and wander into communities in search of food. Monitoring and information sharing about conflicts will enable governments to support communities towards safe and effective management of polar bears.

Quote from Melanie Lancaster, WWF Arctic Programme’s Senior Specialist, Arctic species:

"Scientists tell us that polar bears across the Arctic are showing signs of climate change-related stress as their essential sea ice habitat disappears. Climate change is the gravest threat to the long-term survival of polar bears and Range States must communicate the urgent need to take global action to meet the Paris Agreement target of 1.5 degrees. Range States must also work together to identify and protect essential habitats for polar bears into the future and manage increasing conflict between people and polar bears."

For more information contact:

Leanne Clare
Sr. Manager Communications
WWF Arctic Programme

Additional background information on international polar bear conservation:

The Circumpolar Action Plan for the Conservation of Polar Bears (CAP) began in 2015. It is a 10-year collaborative plan intended to actualise commitments made by governments of the five Range States where polar bears occur: Canada, Greenland/Kingdom of Denmark, Norway, the Russian Federation and the United States of America. In 2013, on the 40th anniversary of the 1973 Polar Bear Agreement, the Range States reconfirmed their commitments to polar bear conservation and recognised the biggest threat to polar bears’ survival as climate change and loss of their primary habitat – sea ice. The Agreement and the CAP are the only international mechanisms that bring all five Range States together to work on the future survival of polar bears.

Since the CAP’s inception, the number of polar bear subpopulations in decline has risen from one to four out of 19 and polar bears across parts of their range are experiencing climate change-related stress. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2019 Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (IPCC SROCC) notes that changes in sea ice and snow have been linked to changes in distribution, denning, foraging behaviour and survival of polar bears. The report predicts a continued loss of polar bear habitat and notes that the sea ice that remains is younger and thinner, melts earlier in spring and refreezes later in Autumn.