Addressing climate change
WWF has a dedicated worldwide team working on issues of climate and energy, working regionally, nationally, and internationally.
- We support research on climate change effects, and show the way forward by funding research and analysis on alternative energy.
- We advocate for governments to recognize and mitigate the effects of climate change on polar bears.
- WWF has successfully pushed for a statement by countries with polar bear populations, formally recognizing the urgent need for an effective global response to address the challenges of climate change.
- WWF has successfully advocated for the creation of a circumpolar polar bear management plan.
At meetings with governments whose countries are in the polar bear range, WWF has successfully pushed for a statement formally recognizing the urgent need for an effective global response that will address the challenges of climate change. WWF has also successfully advocated for the creation of an international polar bear management plan.
As climate change forces polar bears to spend longer time onshore, they come in contact more often with Arctic communities. Unfortunately, these interactions sometimes end badly for humans and bears. In Russia and Alaska, WWF addresses this challenge by supporting local efforts to protect people and polar bears. Watch this video to learn more about the benefits of involving local people to protect polar bears and communities.
Keeping polar bears separate from people is better for both, since polar bears that wander into communities pose a risk to people, and people often respond by killing the bears. WWF has responded with a variety of locally-led initiatives to help reduce conflict.
- We've supported the design of steel food storage containers, so that local people can continue to store their food outside but protect it from marauding bears and electric fences to separate bears from dog teams.
- WWF is supporting polar bear patrols to deter bears before they get into communities.
- Throughout the Arctic, we convene workshops for people to share their experiences and successes in keeping the peace between people and bears.
If we want to build meaningful management plans for polar bears, we have to know more about them.
Scientists are currently monitoring the conditions and movement of polar bears in the US, Canadian, and Norwegian regions of the Arctic. WWF and our partners are working to understand the impact that different threats, such as climate change and the expansion of industry in the Arctic, are having on different polar bear populations.
For many years, we have run a polar bear tracker, using data from WWF-supported researcher teams to monitor some of the animals by satellite. By tracking these bears, scientists can map a polar bear's range and examine how habitat use may change in response to shifting sea ice.
This information reveals changes and adaptations over time. WWF also provides funding for polar bear researchers to travel to Russia and the US to share and exchange scientific information about polar bears with other researchers. WWF continues to work with scientists at SPYGEN, a DNA specialist firm, to pioneer an innovative tool that can extract DNA from a polar bear footprint.
WWF also supports polar bear research that tells us about their "vital signs" like body condition, reproduction, and cub survival. In addition, we support research on population trends in polar bear populations, which are even more important than hard numbers. WWF has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to polar bear surveys, and continues to do so.
Knowledge comes from many places. In the Arctic, we speak of our work as being "knowledge-based" rather than solely "science-based." Indigenous peoples of the Arctic have a store of ecological knowledge based on their own observations of the environment and on information handed down over generations.
WWF encourages the use of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) to inform management policies in the Arctic. We have supported several projects that collect this form of knowledge, helping to provide a more rounded knowledge base. WWF has also supported research on TEK in the US and Canada, which provides invaluable information for conservation and management of the species.
Reducing industrial impacts
WWF's goal is to ensure that wherever industrial development takes place, it is sustainable and does not damage wildlife populations and ecosystems to any great extent. We offer technical expertise on oil spill prevention and response. We also advocate for the highest development standards through national and international venues.
WWF collaborates with scientists, conservationists, and local people to oppose oil and gas development in areas whose ecological value is far too great for risking exposure to spills.
To help maritime vessels stay clear of ecologically fragile places, WWF is preparing sensitivity maps for areas of the Arctic. We have also offered best practices for shipping in the Arctic and continue to work at the International Maritime Organization on a polar code that would make Arctic shipping safer.
Protecting Critical Habitat
WWF recognizes the urgency of protecting habitat for polar bears as they rapidly lose their sea ice habitat from climate change.
- We support the identification and protection of important polar bear habitat (denning areas and movement corridors, seasonal feeding areas/times, and key resting areas during the ice free period).
- We are supporting research to identify high value habitat areas—areas where the bears feed, den, and give birth— and work with partners to conserve these places.
PROTECTING THE LAST ICE AREA OF THE ARCTIC:
- Scientists believe that a natural safety net of ice in the High Arctic of Canada and Greenland covering 320 million acres–or twice the size of Texas–may persist longer than the ice anywhere else. Since 1992, WWF has been working with partners to sustainably preserve the rich biodiversity of this region. Now, WWF works with local people to establish an appropriate management plan for this "last ice area" in Canada and Greenland. This plan could provide many benefits, such as conserving habitat for Arctic ice dependent species and protecting the cultural heritage and economies of local communities.
- WWF advocated for the creation of Polar Bear Pass National Wildlife Area in Canada's High Arctic and the Russian Arctic Park on the northern part of the island of Novaya Zemlya above Russia. We are involved in many more such plans.
- WWF has provided extensive financial support to the Wrangel Island Nature Reserve, known as the "polar bear nursery" for its high concentration of polar bear maternity dens. WWF won Wrangel Island as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004 and in 2012, successfully advocated for the significant expansion of a marine buffer zone around Wrangel Island and its smaller neighbour, Herald Island.
Promoting Sustainable Tourism
While we want to see local people benefit from tourism, no one benefits if tourism drives away the sights the tourists have come to see.
WWF spent many years working with tourism operators in areas inhabited by polar bears to find ways to limit the impact of tourists on the bears and their habitat.
- WWF produced a set of principles for Arctic tourism. These principles have been adopted by some tourism operators and have formed the basis for tourism codes of conduct in the Arctic.
- WWF is collaborating with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to assess the specific impact of polar bear tourism.
Ensuring Sustainable Hunting
WWF supports the right of Indigenous peoples to continue to sustainably hunt local animals.
Timeline of polar bear conservation
Beginning in the 1700s, large-scale hunting by European, Russian and North American hunters and trappers took place, raising concerns about the future survival of polar bears. Unregulated commercial and recreational hunting continued until the 1970s.
Ministers and other leaders from the five polar bear range states met in Moscow for the first International Forum on Polar Bear Conservation. The leaders made significant commitments to address issues of polar bear habitat, research and trade. This event was supported by WWF.
Today, polar bears are among the few large carnivores that are still found in roughly their original habitat and range--and in some places, in roughly their natural numbers.
Although most of the world's 19 populations have returned to healthy numbers, there are differences between them. Some are stable, some seem to be increasing, and some are decreasing due to various pressures.
Status of the polar bear populations
Updated 2019 with data from the IUCN Polar Bear Specialists Group
- 4 populations are in decline
- 2 populations are increasing
- 5 populations are stable
- 8 populations are data-deficient (information missing or outdated)