Fund uses charismatic bears as lightning rod

Stop climate change to save polar bears: WWF


The World Wildlife Fund is using the polar bear as a lever to force Canada, the United States, Norway, Denmark and Russia to take seriously their responsibilities to address climate change.

Speaking on the eve of an historic meeting of the five countries that signed the original polar bear treaty in 1973, the WWF urged them to protect bears and their habitat by significantly reducing greenhouse-gas production, and by pushing hard for a "fair, effective climate change agreement" in Copenhagen next December.

In the case of Canada, it will be an uphill battle.

Iqaluit-based human-rights lawyer Paul Crowley recently told Nunatsiaq News that at international meetings he attended last December, Canada had consistently blocked progress on greenhouse gas reduction.

It also dropped any pretense of meeting the Kyoto accord agreements it had signed to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions, he said.

Canada is not only the highest per-capita producer of greenhouse gases in the world, but is also second last among the world's 57 biggest producers of greenhouse gases, in terms of acting to reduce emissions.

Also last week, a meeting in Copenhagen of the International Scientific Congress on Climate Change reported that changes in the global climate system have already become drastic enough to begin causing social upheavals around the world.

Global weather patterns are changing faster than the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had predicted only two years ago, delegates at the Copenhagen meeting heard from scientists.

The results have included drought and uncontrollable brush fires in Australia, the imminent flooding of the Maldives Islands in the South Pacific, shrinking glaciers and ice caps at both poles – and of course, melting Arctic sea ice that is disrupting traditional hunting patterns for both Inuit and polar bears.

"There is a significant risk that many of the trends will accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts," the scientific congress said.

Both the world's oceans and the immense areas of northern permafrost are important "carbon sinks." They hold vast quantities of carbon that could otherwise be released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere acts as a global blanket to hold in heat absorbed from the sun. As CO2 levels increase, they throw off the climatic balance "within which our societ[ies] and econom[ies] have developed and thrived," the scientific congress said.

But melting permafrost could potentially release huge quantities of carbon, and acidification of the oceans mean those seas are reaching the limits of their abilities to absorb carbon, thus piling on the atmospheric blankets even thicker.

And scientists are now saying shrinking sea ice cover could leave summer Arctic waters virtually ice free within just over a decade. Dark, ice-free waters absorb more of the solar heat that ice and snow would reflect back into space, also feeding climate change.

Two Inuit hunters who had to be rescued from a floating ice pan near Coral Harbour last week may be one small example of those disruptions to traditional social and economic patterns that are beginning to occur around the world due to climate change.

Sandy Pudlat and Greg Ningeocheak were hunting March 12 when the ice they were standing on broke off the floe edge and drifted away, according to a report in the Globe and Mail.

Military rescue crews dropped emergency supplies until the pan drifted back to the floe edge.

The incident happened just after Iqaluit's Mayor Elisapee Sheutiapik told Nunat-siaq News that search-and-rescue crews are increasingly having to help hunters who aren't lost, but who have become stuck due to unpredictable ice melting.

Only urgent action to stop global climate change can save polar bears from extinction, the WWF said in its teleconference from Norway.

The WWF also called on the five polar-bear countries to take indigenous knowledge and experience into account to develop, implement and sustainably fund a circumpolar action plan for polar bear conservation by the end of this year.

Representatives from the five countries were meeting in Tromsø, Norway, this week to discuss polar-bear-management issues. It's only the second such meeting since the original treaty was signed in 1973.

The fund urged the polar-bear nations to integrate the projected impacts of climate change, development, harvesting, and human-bear conflict into all management and planning for polar bears and habitats.

The WWF has long used the polar bear – the most charismatic of the "charismatic megafauna" – as a lightning rod to attract support to its campaign for action against climate change.

And sometimes that tactic has brought the fund into conflict with Inuit harvesters and wildlife managers, even though both groups share a common concern about climate change.

They also share a common commitment to sustainable harvesting. But they have differed on what sustainable means, as the WWF more often sides with science-based managers with whom many Inuit have found themselves in increasing disagreement.

This week, Inuit harvesters from across Nunavut are meeting with wildlife managers from all levels of government and from the Inuit organizations to address some of their differences over wildlife management, and to seek common ground.

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