A large male polar bear on a frozen tidal pond. The most recent report from the ICUN Red List of Threatened Species concluded that climate change is still the primary threat to polar bears.

© Dan Guravich/Polar Bears International

11/20/2015 9:36:51 PM

Climate Change Still Primary Threat to Polar Bears

Two weeks before the COP21 United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (ICUN) released an update to their Red List of Endangered Species, emphasizing climate change as the biggest threat to polar bears (Ursus maritimus).

The new report concluded, "Loss of Arctic sea ice due to climate change is the most serious threat to Polar Bears throughout their circumpolar range."

"Our analyses highlight the potential for large reductions in the global Polar Bear population if sea-ice loss continues, which is forecast by climate models and other studies."

The re-assessment (generally once every four years) of the polar bear 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 information to date.

The results show that there is a high probability the global polar bear population will decline by more than 30% over the next 35 to 40 years.

"Without rapid and meaningful actions to reduce our collective greenhouse gas emissions, we will ultimately have fewer polar bears in fewer places, making them increasingly vulnerable to other threats," said Geoff York, senior director of conservation for Polar Bears International.

After re-assessment, the IUCN retained the polar bear as vulnerable, one step below endangered on its Red List. Overall, the analysis highlights the potential for large reductions in polar bear abundance if sea-ice loss continues over the long-term, which is forecast by climate models and other studies (IPCC 2013).

"Governments meeting at the climate summit in Paris later this month will need to go all out to strike a deal strong enough to confront this unprecedented challenge," said Inger Andersen, the director general of the IUCN.

ICUN has been assessing the conservation status of species, subspecies, varieties, and even selected subpopulations on a global scale for the past 50 years.

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