Home News WWF launches urgent appeal to save polar bears

WWF launches urgent appeal to save polar bears

Published on 13/03/2009

Oslo -- Environmental group WWF on Thursday called for urgent measures to counter global warming in the Arctic, warning that the region's emblematic polar bear would disappear if the polar ice melts.

"No sea ice equates no polar bears,” WWF polar bear expert Geoff York told reporters. “It’s really that simple."

York was speaking in Oslo days before representatives of the five countries bordering the Arctic were set to meet in the northern Norwegian town of Tromsoe on March 17 to discuss how to safeguard the bear.

The WWF insisted the Arctic countries had a special obligation to spearhead efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

"People have caused the problem, people have to fix it," said Rasmus Hansson, the head of WWF Norway, adding that several of the five Arctic nations "are also extremely important (to the development of) international climate change policies."

The two-day Tromsoe meeting grouping Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States will discuss how to address threats against the polar bear that have emerged since they first signed a conservation agreement in 1973.

Back then, hunters were the only known threat against the white bear.

"Nobody thought about climate change at that time," said scientist Thor Larsen, who helped negotiate the 1973 accord.

As many as two thirds of the 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears that roam the Arctic could disappear within the next 50 years due to global warming, according to recent estimates from the US Geological Survey (USGS) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The Tromsoe meeting comes at "an extremely important moment," ahead of the talks on a new global pact on climate change in Copenhagen in December set to replace the Kyoto accord, Hansson said.

"In the United States, (President) Barack Obama has sent completely different signals than the previous administration on climate issues," he said.

According to some estimates, the Arctic ice floes that make up the polar bear’s hunting ground could completely disappear during the summer months by 2020.

It is not too late to act, said York, who used to work for the USGS.

He cautioned however that "oil, mining, shipping and military activities did not exist in previous times of warming," calling for all these activities to be reined in across the region.