Good news for polar bears: a recent study shows that greenhouse gas reductions could have a positive impact on the climate in about ten years.

© Andrew Fore Photography/

1/13/2015 8:28:21 PM

New Study Strengthens Evidence That Time Remains to Help Polar Bears

One of the most frequent questions that we receive is whether it's too late to help polar bears. Our scientists answer emphatically, "No-it is not too late." If we act swiftly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions we can save them. A new study, published in Environmental Research Letters, provides further evidence that turning off the CO2 spigot will save arctic sea ice and ensure a future for polar bears.

The findings suggest that the time frame for greenhouse gas reductions to impact the climate is much shorter than previously thought - stopping temperature rise in about ten years instead of the many decades previously thought.

"This is really good news," said Dr. Steven Amstrup, PBI's chief scientist. "It is further evidence that those of us alive now will see the effects of the warming we are forcing, and that we will see the benefits of stopping that warming. So, this is not just about the future faced by our children (for whom many politicians seemingly don't care), it is indeed about us."

It's also about polar bears. Sea ice is polar bear habitat, and the bears depend on it both as a platform from which to hunt seals, and as the basis of their food chain. Global warming is reducing arctic sea ice extent and the length of the polar bear's hunting season. But, if we stop the rise in greenhouse gas emissions, sea ice will stabilize soon afterwards.

"In our 2010 paper in Nature," Amstrup said, "we showed that sea ice extent stabilized approximately 20 years after halting the rise in GHG concentrations. This paper doesn't deal with sea ice, but given the linear relationship between sea ice and temperature that we observed, the ramifications for sea ice, in the many model runs of this new paper, are clear." 

"There are many feedbacks that could result in impacts that grow in severity beyond the time that peak temperature is reached," Amstrup cautioned. "These could include storm and drought severity, and especially biological impacts. We simply do not know how long it might take these impacts to respond once stable temperatures are reached."

"Regardless of those 'uncertainties,' the results of this new study are added support for the very important certainty that all of us will benefit if we mitigate greenhouse gases and the sooner we act the greater the degree to which we will benefit." 

Read more: IOP Science; Maximum warming occurs about one decade after a carbon dioxide emission

You can pledge to shrink your carbon footprint this year on our Save Our Sea Ice! page. 

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