Climate change is threatening critical Arctic sea ice ecosystems, according to a new report, putting polar bears at risk for significant population declines by the end of the century. Under current climate projections, polar bears across the entire Canadian Arctic Archipelago could eventually fail to reproduce and face starvation.
A quarter of the world’s polar bears inhabit these Arctic islands, where sea ice is currently present throughout the year. But according to the paper, ‘Projected Polar Bear Sea Ice Habitat in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago’, published today in the scientific journal PLOS ONE with support from WWF, even these bears are likely to face up to five months of open water in the coming decades.
The study found that, by 2070, over 80 percent of the archipelago’s ice could break up in July. This would force pregnant females onto land earlier than normal, which could interfere with successful births. And the remaining sea ice may not persist long enough to allow bears enough time to hunt.
“This sobering report shows the limits of polar bear adaptation in the face of climate change,” said Pete Ewins, WWF Species Conservation Specialist in Canada. “Polar bears will continue to face increasingly challenging conditions unless we slash greenhouse gas emissions. We also must limit other pressures, such as shipping and offshore oil and gas development, to give bears the best chance at survival.”
"This research is a grim reminder of what's at stake if we fail to ramp-up global efforts to curb emissions,” said Lou Leonard, WWF vice president for climate change. “As international leaders gather next week in Lima for the next round of UN climate talks, the balance of nature on our planet is already fundamentally changing. To limit the damage to humans and wildlife, we must build on recent momentum and countries need to stretch to do even more. Anything less will doom natural wonders like the polar bear, and human marvels like our great coastal cities, to ruin.”