Central and Eastern Europe: Polar Bears Turn Their Lonely Eyes to You

Today, Poland is hosting a workshop for Central and Eastern European Countries on the US proposal to ban the international commercial trade in polar bears.  The meeting highlights the key role Europe will play in determining the fate of polar bears.

Let’s unpack some of what’s in that paragraph.  First, there’s international commercial trade in polar bear parts (skins, teeth, claws, skulls, etc.).  Yes, that’s right, polar bear parts are available for purchase around the world – you too can have a polar bear rug in front of one of the many fireplaces in your Swiss chalet (but not in your US ski lodge because of the species’ threatened status under the Endangered Species Act).  The global market is supplied by Canada, which kills about 600 bears every year, with parts from over 400 of them ending up on the international market.  Canada is the only country where polar bears live (the others are the US, Russia, Norway, and Greenland) and are killed to supply the global market.

Second, there’s a US proposal to ban the global trade in polar bear parts.  The US has submitted a proposal, supported by Russia, to end the commercial export and import of polar bear parts through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).  The 176 Parties to CITES will consider the US proposal at their next meeting in March, 2013, in Thailand.  Countries are lining up in favor (Russia) or opposed (Canada) to the proposal.

Third, European support for the proposal will be critical to ensuring its passage.  When a previous proposal was considered nearly three years ago, the European Union voted “No.”  The 27-member states – voting as a bloc – apparently wanted to give Canada one more chance to get its house in order.  Unfortunately, the situation in Canada has only gotten worse.  Demand for polar bear hides has gone up, prices have skyrocketed, and at the same time quotas and harvest levels in Canada have gone up, even when international polar bear specialists have opposed increases on the grounds that the quotas are unsustainable.

So, today, 14 Central and Eastern European countries are attending a workshop on the US proposal and the status of polar bears generally.  They are hearing from US officials and key polar bear scientists and advocates.  The message is clear: climate change threatens polar bears with extinction and the international commercial trade in polar bear parts should be stopped if we want to give them a chance to survive in the coming decades without adding stress on populations of supplying global demand for polar bear rugs.

NRDC is also at the workshop, ensuring that these European countries understand what’s at stake for polar bears and the key role Europe will play.

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