The World Conservation Union (IUCN) released the 2006 Red List of Threatened Species today revealing the ongoing decline of the status of plants and animals. On that list the polar bear has been moved to the threatened category and listed as Vulnerable, and defined as a species that is ‘threatened with global extinction’.
The Red List is an effective guide to show the net effects that continual habitat loss, over-exploitation, pollutants, climate change and the introduction of invasive plants and species into new areas are having on our planet.
Polar bears are set to become one of the most notable and dramatic casualties of global warming unless drastic action is taken now. The impact of climate change is increasingly felt in polar regions, where summer sea ice is expected to decrease by 50-100 percent over the next 50-100 years. Dependent upon arctic sea-ice for hunting seals and highly specialized for life in the arctic marine environment, polar bears are predicted to suffer more than a 30 percent population decline in the next 45 years. Previously listed by IUCN as a conservation dependent species, the polar bear now moves into the threatened categories.
Recent news articles have stated various extinction timeframes for this majestic creature, and although no one knows for sure when we might see the demise of the species, we do know that without immediate action this species is in great peril.
Climate change represents one of the most pervasive threats to our planet’s biodiversity. A recently published study co-authored by WWF, Global Warming and Extinctions of Endemic Species
from Biodiversity Hotspots, suggests that a quarter of the world’s species will be on their way to extinction by 2050 as a result of accelerating climatic changes directly linked to human use of fossil fuels.
“Climate change is happening now – not sometime in the distant future – and greenhouse gas emissions are the main culprit,” said Julia Langer, director of global threats for WWF-Canada. “The test of the Harper government’s commitment will be in today’s budget. Cutting existing climate change programs while claiming that Canada cannot meet its Kyoto targets is disingenuous at worst, and a self-fulfilling prophecy at best.”
“Making matters worse, the lack of even a general statement by a Minister in support of the regulation of industrial greenhouse gas emissions, which is a critical plank of any credible climate change action plan, has once again left Canadians, industry and the world in a state of uncertainty. Canada must do its duty to help avoid the dangers of climate change,” said Langer.
WWF applauds IUCN for drawing attention to this situation and calls on governments and industry to take immediate action to address this problem.
“Knowing that over our lifetimes we sat there while the polar bears became extinct is really quite an immoral legacy to leave for future generations,” said Dr. Peter Ewins, director of species conservation with WWF-Canada. "Our current government appears to have decided it's better not to take any action to address climate change, but to just sit and think about it some more. That's not what the majority of Canadians say when you poll them, but clearly that's what the Harper government believes is an acceptable practice.”
In Canada, we face cultural issues regarding the polar bear as well. Inuit in the Arctic are dependent upon species like the polar bear for their way of life. They are permitted a limited, sustainable hunt of healthy polar bear populations. WWF-Canada respects the cultural rights and needs of the Inuit. In fact, Inuit knowledge contributes to the current, successful, science-based management approach of polar bear populations.
WWF believes the IUCN Red list is an important science-based conservation tool that should be used across the globe by communities, governments and international fora to drive funding and decision making. Reversal of the negative trend is possible when political motivation is high and when local communities see the value and benefit from conserving species. It is also important to remember that many of the world's threatened species are in the same places as some of the world's poorest people. In many cases, the root causes of species loss in these areas are either the same as, or closely related to, the causes of poverty.
WWF works in close cooperation with IUCN across the globe in many ways, including through field interventions and cooperation with the various Species Specialist Groups of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, which WWF supports. IUCN has highlighted a number of species upon which WWF focuses some of its work on.
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