Saving the Arctic

Posted on 11 April 2011

We’re helping Arctic animals adapt to a rapidly changing climate
We’re helping Arctic animals adapt to a rapidly changing climate

When you see the Arctic on TV, its frozen seas and vast expanses of ice and snow look like they belong on another planet.

But the damage climate change is causing to the region could have catastrophic consequences much closer to home.

What’s at stake?

As the Earth warms up, melting Arctic ice will lead to rising sea levels, which will play havoc with our coasts.

And global warming in the Arctic may release huge reserves of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

These could speed up the effects of climate change everywhere if they’re released. 

What happens in the Arctic directly affects the rest of the planet. That’s one reason why we’ve made protecting this amazing place, and the animals that make it their home, a priority.

The story so far

We’ve been active in the Arctic for decades.

Back in 1973, we helped convince the five governments of the region to sign a treaty to protect polar bears.

Controls on hunting were so successful that 10 years later the number of bears in Norway had doubled. And in 1974, WWF worked with the Greenland.

We’ve highlighted some of the most compelling stories of climate change to emerge from the Arctic, from Greenland’s melting ice sheet, to a new ocean emerging from the frozen cocoon of Arctic sea ice.

At the same time we’re protecting unique habitats and wildlife, such as polar bears, walruses and bowhead whales. More than 350,000 sq km of the Arctic is now protected from threats such as mining and oil drilling. 

Did you know?

Polar bears are so well insulated that they have to move slowly to avoid overheating.

Facts and stats

  • >10% - rate at which summer sea ice is disappearing per decade, threatening species like polar bears
  • ¼ - estimated proportion of the world’s untapped oil and gas reserves found in the Arctic. As the ice moves out, oil companies are moving in.
  • 25,000 – polar bears in the wild today

What next?

Today, climate change is the biggest threat facing the Arctic and its wildlife. Polar bears, for example, depend on summer sea ice to hunt seals. As the Earth heats up and the ice disappears, scientists estimate that two-thirds of polar bears could be wiped out by 2050.

We’re researching how climate change is affecting Arctic ecosystems, and how we can help them adapt and survive. Our research into the effects of warming in the Arctic is also helping to influence international action on climate change.

We’re also supporting research on climate change and work with communities living in the Arctic, to help people get to grips with reality of climate change and its local and global effects.

At the same time, we’re working with governments and companies to reduce their impact on the Arctic. We need to give Arctic animals both the time and space to adapt.

WWF in action

“Species like polar bears represent the Arctic ecosystem, which is responsible for moderating global climate,” says Geoff York, who co-ordinates our work on polar bears and other Arctic species.

“Conserving these species and their habitat protects us from a warming climate. Arctic species are also a critically important aspect of indigenous cultures essential to the food security of those living in the region.

“Recently, WWF successfully lobbied Arctic governments to recognize climate change as the primary threat to the survival of the polar bear. These governments are now responsible for taking a lead on reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. They have publicly committed to the conservation of a species that depends on it.”

What you can do

Join the myWWF Action Center
Be part of a global community of activists ready to take simple online actions that can help save wildlife and people. Sign up today!


Melting iceberg on coast Qaanaaq, Greenland, Arctic.
© Staffan Widstrand / WWF
Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) in blue ice. Bukta Tikay, Franz Josef Land, Svalbard, Spitsbergen, Norway.
© Wim van Passel / WWF
Melting sea ice and icebergs in the Arctic
© WWF / Wim van Pessel