Polar bear photographed by FOUR PAWS team

Preserving polar bear populations before it's too late 

Polar bears have long been a source of joy to mankind. Now there is a drastic decline in their numbers due to climate change. The urgency of mitigating climate change to save the species is becoming increasingly clear


Polar bears are beloved and treasured across the world, but unfortunately their population is declining due to climate change. Scientists warn they may not be around much longer, making it even more important to preserve them and their habitat.

Today, on International Polar Bear Day, we look at steps that can be taken to ensure that the survival of this poster child of the impacts of climate change is no longer at an increasing risk.

Climate change has been most severe in the arctic region, home of the iconic ice giants. According to an analysis by the European Union’s climate monitoring service, Copernicus, the polar regions, and Europe experienced the most severe effects of global warming in 2022.

Polar bears have the status on IUCN Redlist of being vulnerable and face a risk of extinction. There are an estimated 22 000 to 31 000 polar bears in the arctic wilderness. A recent study in the research publication Nature Climate Change suggests that unmitigated greenhouse gas emissions could lead to a further decrease in their numbers.

Climate change scientists says action to create a more sustainable future for all is required. This might be too much, too little, too late as the popular song would have it, as the climate change summit in November 2022, COP27, failed to deliver for animals such as polar bears.

"Climate change has undeniably influenced biodiversity. Plans and proposals need to be put into place to combat these developments and decreases in species counts"

Sophie Aylmer, Head of FOUR PAWS Farm Animals and Nutrition Policy

FOUR PAWS highlighted how agroecological farming systems with fewer animals can halt the biodiversity and climate crises at the recent November 2022 climate change summit, COP27, yet governments failed to accept the need for system change that would deliver a positive outcome for climate change and thus for animals such as polar bears. 

Sophie points out in order to address this issue global policies must put sustainable food and farming at the heart of climate mitigation and adaptation action.

“We must implement policies to enable this transition to sustainable, healthy and diverse food systems in which animals can thrive.”

She urges governments to align their food and farming policies with their climate and other international commitments, and to support the transition to higher welfare farming systems and predominately plant-based diets. She also suggests that governments and particularly those in the global North, reduce livestock numbers to stay within planetary boundaries.

Sophie believes that although innovation and precision farming and technological fixes are often discussed in climate change circles, these discussions are insufficient in addressing absolute emissions.

“The focus should also be on the importance of sustainable and resilient agricultural practices, plant-rich diets, and reducing food waste and loss.”

She is however hopeful that despite world leaders failing to deliver on the necessary climate change mitigation and adaptation solutions, that this year’s upcoming climate change discussions at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) will bring my focus to the role of food systems on the climate.

“A holistic food systems approach must be adopted in order to address over production and over-consumption of animal products while still ensuring food and farming policies are beneficial for both people and the planet. Such policies should also minimise animal suffering,” 

On her wish list for COP28 is that the tone will be set for future global policy regarding agriculture and food systems, animal-based production, and methane emissions. FOUR PAWS would also be advocating for a revision of Nationally Determined Contributions by countries to include pathways and targets for sustainable production and consumption of animal-based products.

She points out that one of the complimentary climate change action tools is the global Methane Pledge which covers the energy sector and since COP27, the agriculture sector. Given the disproportionate amount of methane emissions from livestock, Sophie underlines the need to aim for a more ambitious 45% reduction target of methane emissions by 2030 and that the simplest way is for governments to reduce the number of animals farmed.

“By committing to such ambitious targets, we can make strides also in protecting the planet’s biodiversity. This would be a major step forward to bring about real change for the populations of animals being at risk of extinction at present.”