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201521Nov10:49

Cli­mate change most seri­ous threat to Polar Bear, says new assessment

Infor­ma­tion
pub­lished 21 Novem­ber 2015 | mod­i­fied 21 Novem­ber 2015
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A global re-​assessment of polar bears high­lights loss of sea ice habi­tat due to cli­mate warm­ing as the sin­gle most impor­tant threat to the long-​term sur­vival of the species, accord­ing to the lat­est update of The IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species™ released on 19 Novem­ber by IUCN, Inter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Nature.

- Sep­tem­ber Arc­tic sea ice extent has declined at a lin­ear rate of 14% per decade from 1979 through 2011
- Increas­ing Arc­tic tem­per­a­tures could also reduce habi­tat and increase the inci­dence of dis­ease for prey species such as ice seals
- Global Polar Bear pop­u­la­tion will decline by more than 30% over the next 35 to 40 years

Polar bear swimming in Arctic watersThe re-​assessment of the Polar Bear (Ursus mar­itimus) used the most cur­rent sea ice and sub-​population data, along with com­puter sim­u­la­tion and sta­tis­ti­cal mod­els, to project poten­tial changes in the size of polar bear sub-​populations due to changes in sea ice. It is the most com­pre­hen­sive assess­ment of this data to date. The results show that there is a high prob­a­bil­ity that the global polar bear pop­u­la­tion will decline by more than 30% over the next 35 to 40 years. The assess­ment sup­ports the cur­rent Vul­ner­a­ble sta­tus of the
polar bear on The IUCN Red List.

Cli­mate change impacts go far beyond this iconic species [polar bear], and present a threat our planet has never faced before
Inger Ander­sen, IUCN Direc­tor General »

Based on the lat­est, most robust sci­ence, this assess­ment pro­vides evi­dence that cli­mate change will con­tinue to seri­ously threaten Polar Bear sur­vival in the future,” says Ander­sen. “Cli­mate change impacts go far beyond this iconic species, and present a threat our planet has never faced before. Gov­ern­ments meet­ing at the cli­mate sum­mit in Paris (COP21) next month will need to go all out to strike a deal strong enough to con­front this unprece­dented challenge.”

Arc­tic sea ice decline
Recent stud­ies show that the loss of Arc­tic sea ice has pro­gressed faster than most cli­mate mod­els had pre­dicted, with Sep­tem­ber sea ice extent declin­ing at a lin­ear rate of 14% per decade from 1979 through 2011. As polar bears rely on sea ice to access their prey, an annual ice-​free period of five months or more will cause extended fast­ing for the species, which is likely to lead to increased repro­duc­tive fail­ure and star­va­tion in some areas. Accord­ing to recent sea ice pro­jec­tions, large regions of the Cana­dian Arc­tic Arch­i­pel­ago will be ice free for more than five months by the late 21st cen­tury; and in other parts of the Arc­tic, the five-​month ice-​free thresh­old may be reached by the mid­dle of the 21st cen­tury. Warm­ing Arc­tic tem­per­a­tures could also reduce habi­tat and increase the inci­dence of dis­ease for prey species such as ice seals, plac­ing the polar bear at fur­ther risk.

Other threats
Along with sea ice loss, other poten­tial threats to the species include pol­lu­tion, resource explo­ration and habi­tat change due to devel­op­ment. Oil devel­op­ment in the Arc­tic, for exam­ple, poses a wide range of threats, from oil spills to increased human-​bear interaction.

Why are polar bears impor­tant
Polar bears are impor­tant to the liveli­hoods of Indige­nous Peo­ples and, as apex preda­tors, are essen­tial to main­tain­ing ecosys­tem bal­ance in the Arc­tic region.

Cir­cum­po­lar Action Plan
“Whilst sea ice loss is the major threat to polar bears, the full range of cur­rent and poten­tial threats must be con­sid­ered in polar bear man­age­ment plans,” says Dag Von­graven, Chair of IUCN’s Species Sur­vival Commission’s (SSC) Polar Bear Spe­cial­ist Group. “It is encour­ag­ing that polar bear range states have recently agreed on a pdfCir­cum­po­lar Action Plan — the first global con­ser­va­tion strat­egy to strive for the long-​term per­sis­tence of polar bears in the wild. IUCN is actively work­ing with those coun­tries, pro­vid­ing sci­en­tific data and advice to help imple­ment the agreed plan in the most effi­cient and cohe­sive way pos­si­ble. We truly hope that the action plan will make a dif­fer­ence for polar bear conservation.”

The over­ar­ch­ing vision of the Cir­cum­po­lar Action Plan
To secure the long-​term per­sis­tence of polar bears in the wild that rep­re­sent the genetic, behav­ioural, life-​history and eco­log­i­cal diver­sity of the species.

In order to real­ize the vision, the Range States have devel­oped six key objec­tives:
1. Min­i­mize threats to polar bears and their habi­tat through adap­tive man­age­ment based on coor­di­nated research and mon­i­tor­ing efforts, use of pre­dic­tive mod­els and inter­ac­tion with inter­ested or affected par­ties;
2. Com­mu­ni­cate to the pub­lic, pol­icy mak­ers, and leg­is­la­tors around the world the impor­tance of mit­i­gat­ing GHG emis­sions to polar bear con­ser­va­tion;
3. Ensure the preser­va­tion and pro­tec­tion of essen­tial habi­tat for polar bears;
4. Ensure respon­si­ble har­vest man­age­ment sys­tems that will sus­tain polar bear sub­pop­u­la­tions for future gen­er­a­tions;
5. Man­age human-​bear inter­ac­tions to ensure human safety and to min­i­mize polar bear injury or mor­tal­ity;
6. Ensure that inter­na­tional legal trade of polar bears is car­ried out accord­ing to con­ser­va­tion prin­ci­ples and that poach­ing and ille­gal trade are curtailed.

The recent update also high­lights habi­tat degra­da­tion as a main threat to many fun­gus species and over-​fishing as the key dri­ver of decline in marine bony fish. The full news release on this update is avail­able here. The IUCN Red List now includes 79,837 assessed species, of which 23,250 are threat­ened with extinction.


(Source: IUCN Red List news release, 19.11.2015; Arc­tic Por­tal news, 11.09.2015)


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