Climate is No. 1 threat to polar bears

March 19, 2009 8:17:45 AM PDT
The five nations bordering the Arctic said Thursday that the survival of polar bears depends on success in fighting climate change, identified as the biggest threat facing the giant carnivores.

Representatives from the U.S., Canada, Russia, Norway and Denmark noted with "deep concern" that global warming was melting the Arctic ice that is home to polar bears and their main prey: seals.

"Climate change has a negative impact on polar bears and their habitat and is the most important long-term threat facing polar bears," the five nations said in a joint declaration after a three-day meeting in Tromsoe, northern Norway.

It was the first time in 28 years that the Arctic nations had reviewed their 1973 Polar Bear Agreement, meant to protect the world's estimated 20,000-25,000 polar bears.

"The parties agreed that long term conservation of polar bears depends upon successful mitigation of climate change," the statement said, and called on other forums to take "appropriate action" to mitigate it.

However, the statement did not do as the meeting's host, Norway, had asked and make a direct appeal for action to the U.N. climate talks in December in Copenhagen. At those talks, countries plan to negotiate a global climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

"In an ideal world we would have liked that," said Clive Desire-Tesar, a spokesman for the Worldwide Fund for Nature. "But we recognize that major climate initiatives have to come from the ministerial level."

Desire-Tesar said the 30 or so delegates in Tromsoe were lower echelon bureaucrats, indicating that the countries had not come to the meeting looking for major political breakthroughs.

Norway's Directorate for Nature Management said 60 percent of the world's polar bears could be gone by 2050.

The final statement said polar bears are also threatened by manmade toxins that reach the Arctic, possible increases in shipping, oil and industrial activities in their realm, and possible over-hunting.

The statement said there was a need to manage harvests for indigenous peoples who depend on polar bear hunts for food and income.

The final statement said the next meeting will be held in Canada in 2011, followed by one in Russia in 2013.

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