On Sunday, November 9, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals adopted a Norwegian proposal to list polar bears on Appendix II of the Convention, which requires Norway and other members to enter into agreements that will restore polar bears to a “favorable conservation status.” The members to the convention accepted the Norwegian proposal by consensus at their 11th meeting in Quito, Ecuador, recognizing the primary threat climate change poses to polar bears.
This is very good news. The Appendix II listing should compel a new multilateral approach to polar bear protection and places an affirmative duty on Parties to the Convention, like Norway and members of the European Union, to strengthen polar bear protection through existing mechanisms, like the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which still sanctions international trade of polar bear skins, skulls, and teeth from declining populations, and the Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears between the five polar bear range states — the United States, Canada, Russia, Norway, and Denmark (Greenland).
The additional recognition that more needs to be done to protect polar bears — the US, Norway, and Russia will lose their polar bear populations by the end of the century — places a new onus on states that have heretofore balked at extending additional protections. By admitting that polar bears would significantly benefit from additional concerted action, what now will the European Union member states and Norway do? For example, in the context of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, will they continue to thwart efforts to obtain greater protection for polar bears (voting at the most recent meeting of the convention against eliminating international trade in polar bear parts) or will they work constructively to put in place necessary limitations on unsustainable trade?
A new approach is necessary. Current protective measures and regimes are simply not up to the task of saving the species unless they are given an extra push. This listing underscores the need for urgent action. Unless we take steps now to curb arctic warming, strengthen populations by eliminating the global market for polar bear hides, and bar additional habitat degradation from industrial development, the future for polar bears is bleak: rapid habitat loss over the coming decades with reduced populations ultimately eking out an existence in Canada’s Arctic Archipelago until that habitat also disappears.
With action like this out of CMS, I’m hopeful. We now have a promise of additional measures to save the polar bear before it’s too late. Let’s hold CMS and its members to their promise.