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Polar bear update: “wildlife” or politics?

melting ice svalbard

Melting fast – Arctic ice

The Arctic Institute publishes a weekly newsletter “The Arctic this Week” and, not surprisingly, our white furry Arctic residents feature prominently again this time. As the authors, Tom Fries and Kevin Casey point out, they have slipped from the “wildlife” category into the “politics” category, with the debate going on at the CITES meeting. The newsletter went out before the start of the meeting, but it has links to some very interesting background articles on the issue. I recommend a look at their website.

Some ice blog followers drew my attention to links in yesterday’s post which were not working properly. Apologies for any technical hitches. Here are the polar bear links, mine and some of those Tom and Kevin drew my attention to.

Statement by the IUCN polar bear specialists’ group

Polar Bear Politics in the Economist

WWF Tromsö Polar Bear Workshop

Is enough being done to protect polar bears? (International Polar Foundation)

Polar bears to retain “threatened” listing – in Alaska Dispatch

USA, Europe and Russia team up to help bears – in New York Times

Suggestions for further reading welcome!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Date

March 5, 2013 | 9:19 am

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WWF: human-bear conflict increasing

Polar bear, courtesy of WWF

Polar bear, courtesy of WWF

Hungry polar bears under pressure from climate change are increasingly coming into conflict with people in some regions, said experts at a WWF Workshop in Tromso, Norway, this week. The meeting called on governments to work together to finance and implement ways to keep both bears and people safe.

30 experts from different Arctic regions agreed the polar bear range states – Canada, Norway, Greenland, Russia and the United States – should cooperate to fund, monitor and share conflict reduction measures.

WWF polar bear lead Geoff York said “As sea ice habitat continues to decline, more bears will spend longer periods of time onshore and human activities are also projected to increase in the area, setting the stage for trouble in the years ahead”.

There is a “Range States polar bear conflict working group”. It was also present at the workshop and said it will be presenting a new data tracking system and draft conflict plan at the next meeting of the “Polar Bear Range States” meeting which will be held in Moscow in the autumn.

WWF has designated 2013 as the Year of the Polar Bear and is calling on the countries involved to make firm commitments at the meeting.

So how do you reduce conflict, when bears are hungry and humans in close proximity to areas where they hunt for food? The workshop participants shared ideas including polar bear patrols to help keep bears away from communities, safe storage and disposal of food and rubbish, education on safety measures, deterrents from bear spray to fences and dealing with “problem bears”.

The Ice Blog recently drew attention to a successful project in Canada, which has reduced conflict between bears and locals.

Polar bears are also on the agenda at the CITES meeting in Bangkok at the moment, running until March 14th. The USA is trying to get the bear switched to Appendix I of the convention, which would ban trade in all but “exceptional” circumstances.

This is a different aspect of “polar-bear conflict” and difficult because of traditional hunting practices in some areas. The Economist has an interesting summary in Polar Bear Politics.

Date

March 4, 2013 | 4:12 pm

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UNEP concerned about Arctic melt

Beautiful but on the endangered list (taken off Svalbard 2010)

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has issued a warning that last year’s record shrinkage of the Arctic sea ice highlights the risks climate change brings for the planet. The annual review of the state of the world’s environment was presented in Nairobi this week during an ongoing high-level ministerial meeting.

UNEP said the summer sea ice in the Arctic had covered a record low area of 3.4 million square kilometers, 18 percent below the previous recorded minimum in 2007 and 50 percent below the average for the 19802 and 1990s. The report also mentions melting land ice in Greenland and melting permafrost in high latitudes. The figures are not new, but it is significant that UNEP should highlight the Arctic and the fact that no action is being taken in reaction to the evidence which clearly shows climate-change-induced melting.

“Changing environmental conditions in the Arctic, often considered a bellwether for global climate change, have been an issue of concern for some time, but as of yet this awareness has not translated into urgent action”, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said presenting the report on Monday. He warned that the rush to extract oil and gas from the Arctic seabed as the ice retreats could lead to even higher emissions of greenhouse gases.

“What we are seeing is that the melting of ice is prompting a rush for exactly the fossil-fuel resources that fuelled the melt in the first place”, said Steiner.

Now this is a sentiment Greenpeace, WWF Arctic and other groups have been expressing for years. Here we have it from the world’s key environment watchdog.

“The rush to exploit these vast untapped reserves has consequences that must be carefully thought through by countries everywhere, given the global impacts and issues at stake”.

Meanwhile, this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the country’s “strategic program on Arctic development up to 2020. Enough said?

For anyone who wants to catch up on the Arctic development story, here are a few links.

Polar ice sheets melting faster than ever

Business opportunities boom in the Arctic

Sea levels rising faster than expected

China’s Arctic ambitions spark concern

Energy giants cooperate for Arctic resources

 

 

Date

February 21, 2013 | 10:22 am

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WWF Canada helps reduce polar-bear kills

Polar bear, courtesy of WWF

Polar bear, courtesy of WWF

There are estimated to be between 20 and 25 thousand polar bears left in the world. Climate change is the main threat to their survival these days. Hunting is strictly regulated, with quotas for the number allowed to be hunted as part of indigenous Arctic people’s heritage. But what happens when hungry bears, affected by the loss of sea ice, encroach on human territory? Not a good combination. WWF Canada has been involved in a project to set up electric fences – some of them solar powered – to keep the white giants out and reduce the number of bears killed in self-defense – with highly positive results so far. For the first time in at least three years, no bears were killed in defense of life or property in the hamlet of Arviat, in Nunavut in 2012 thanks to a “polar bear conflict reduction” project. The community , in the western Hudson Bay area, had reported increasing visits by polar bears in town in recent years. One reason is thought to be the loss of sea ice through climate change. WWF Canada has helped the locals fund a monitor to patrol the area at night from October to December, when bears are out and about in the Nunavut region. The monitor scares the bears with spotlights and noise. They have also installed electric fences around some of the dog-team pens. 2013 is the WWF’s “Year of the Polar Bear”. The organisation is also helping to fund monitoring programmes to keep track of the number of bears.

 

Date

February 12, 2013 | 10:25 am

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NGOs at the World Future Energy and Water summits?

Smaller regional ngos like the Environment Friends Society, which focuses on educating women and children about environmental protection, were happy to talk about their activities here at the Abu Dhabi summit and exhibition. Chairman Dr Ibrahim Ali Mohamed and MD Angela Fandino

There are countries, companies and international organisations (UNEP, IRENA) galore exhibiting at the big hall here in Abu Dhabi. The only big international environment ngo with a presence appears to be WWF, which works together with EWS, the Emirates Wildlife Society. All the greater was my disappointment when I was refused entry to an official side event organised jointly by these two groups  on the “Role of Renewable Energy in the GCC”. Since that is the main focus of my trip here, I was keen to get the WWF perspective on this. I was actually asked to leave the room, so wasn’t able to hear the representatives of UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Oman talk about their projects, chaired by Samantha Smith, the leader of WWF International’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative. Frustrating to have missed out on that opportunity, to which I had felt officially invited.

Date

January 17, 2013 | 10:20 am

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