U.S. and Russia Have Joined Forces to Save the Polar Bear

The U.S., Russia, Canada, Denmark and Norway have teamed up to save the polar bear. The five countries – each with territory above the Arctic Circle and all signatories to a 1973 treaty to preserve the species – signed a new agreement to protect the bears as climate change melts its home.

The agreement involves a new 10-year plan that brings the countries together in a pan-Arctic approach. Scientists will work together to collect better estimates of current polar bear populations and evaluate the effects of climate change, pollution and disease. They will meet every two years to report on the progress and collaborate further.

Director of the World Wildlife Fund’s Global Arctic Program Alexander Shestakov says:

“After 40 years of cooperation, this is the first time when parties came together to agree on one circumpolar action plan for polar bears. It doesn’t mean for 40 years they weren’t doing anything. But there was a real need for a pan-Arctic approach.”

Photo by Christopher Michel / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Christopher Michel / CC BY 2.0

When the countries first signed the 1973 treaty to protect polar bears, the major threat was uncontrolled hunting. Now, the biggest threat is climate change and warming temperatures in the Arctic, as polar bears overall lack the ability to survive in warmer temperatures

Specifically, higher temperatures result in melting sea ice, which takes away the polar bears only habitat and the habitat of its prey. Melting ice has also stranded polar bears on land for longer periods in the year, leaving them with less access to food and more risk from people.

This summer proved to be another near record melting of sea ice. An image of an emaciated polar bear in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago by German photographer Kerstin Langenberger shows just how terrible this issue has become. She posted the image to Facebook on August 20 and it quickly went viral, becoming the latest symbol of climate change. Sadly, Langenberger says it was not an unusual sight:

Photo by Kerstin Langenberger
Photo by Kerstin Langenberger

Polar bears cannot survive in the wild unless the Arctic remains cold enough and covered by a good deal of ice year-round. But temperatures will continue to rise and ice will continue to melt if we don’t take action. Over the next few decades, countries around the world must cut burning coal and oil. If not, scientists believe the Arctic summer sea ice will disappear by the middle of the century and with it, the polar bears will likely disappear too.

 
 
Featured image by Kerstin Langenberger

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