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, Alaska, Greenland, and Canada, 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.
To implement the effective polar bear conservation interventions, we have to know more about them.
In addition to supporting current work by scientists to monitor the conditions and movement of polar bears 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, WWF and our partners are working to catalyze development of new technology that will make polar bear research more cost effective, less invasive, and deliver more useful data. For example:
(Polar B)ear Tags:
A few years ago, WWF began working with IDEO, Misty West, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and other partners to rethink polar bear ear tags.
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.
Addressing Impacts of Increased Shipping in the Bering Strait
The 58-mile-wide Bering Strait is one of the Arctic’s most biologically productive environments and a vital migratory corridor. The decline of summer sea ice has dramatically changed the face of global commerce and trade in the Arctic and the increase in industrialization and shipping traffic has the potential to significantly impact the Bering Strait and its inhabitants. To address these increasing threats, WWF US, along with other academic and NGO partners, recently published Recommended Shipping Measures for the Bering Strait Region which includes five recommendations to ensure the future safety of this globally significant marine habitat:
1) Expand implementation of e-navigation and technology
2) Adopt modern Sea Traffic Management measures
3) Establish an Area to Be Avoided surrounding the Diomede Islands
4) Develop region-specific industry practices to minimize adverse impacts and risks
5) Strengthen domestic and bilateral emergency prevention and response capabilities
These measures must be based on identified Indigenous marine use in the Bering Strait. Now is the opportunity to protect this new maritime frontier before it is too late. Bilateral cooperation will be essential for the success of these recommendations.
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.
Ensuring Sustainable Hunting
WWF supports the right of Indigenous peoples to continue to sustainably hunt local animals.
Protecting Important Polar Bear Denning Habitat
Terrestrial and marine denning habitats for polar bears are increasingly disappearing and under threat from climate change and human and industrial influence. Sea ice is essential for polar bears and, in addition to hunting, resting, and finding mates, many polar bears have historically used sea ice as a platform for their maternal dens. But, climate change is melting and fragmenting sea ice across the Arctic, forcing more pregnant females to make their dens on land instead. In addition, new oil and gas exploration and drilling threaten vulnerable polar bear populations. These activities not only compound the climate crisis but can disturb or even crush polar bears in their dens. WWF is working to ensure that places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are protected for securing the survival of America’s polar bears.
Timeline of polar bear conservation
Polar bears are an integral part of the Arctic ecosystem and the food web for Indigenous peoples who have hunted polar bears sustainably for millennia. But 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.
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)