Polar Bears, J. Lyle
© J. Lyle

Polar Bear

Polar Bears and Climate Change

Can you really protect a species from the impacts of climate change without addressing the issue of climate change itself? This is a question that humans, particularly those in politics, are still debating. Meanwhile, as they debate, polar bears continue to be affected as their habitat melts away.

The Problem

In 2008, the polar bear was added to the endangered species list, the first marine mammal listing attributed primarily to climate change. But included in the Bush administration decision was a special rule exempting human activities that cause greenhouse gas pollution, such as carbon dioxide from industrial plants, from ever being considered a violation of the Endangered Species Act as long as the activities are outside the bears' range. This exemption, called the 4(d) rule, means that polar bears aren’t given the usual protections that the Endangered Species Act provides, leaving the bear without new safeguards to address its threatened status.

How We’re Helping

On October 17, 2011, in response to a lawsuit brought by Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace, a federal judge struck down the Bush administration rule. U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the Department of the Interior violated provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act when it issued a special rule, without proper environmental review, that excluded activities from regulation if they occurred outside the range of the polar bear, such as greenhouse gas emissions from big polluters like coal plants.

Despite protests, the Service issued a similarly flawed rule in February, 2013. Defenders is exploring what options we have to oppose this new rule, but since the rule has been issued, it is likely that we’ll soon go back to court to defend polar bears.