Image: Polar bear falls through thin ice
Peter Ewins  /  WWF
A polar bear falls through thin ice in Hudson Bay off the coast of Churchill, Manitoba, in Canada.
updated 3/12/2009 11:05:43 AM ET 2009-03-12T15:05:43

Delegates from five nations with Arctic territory meet next week in Norway to discuss immediate steps to help protect polar bears from warming temperatures and diminishing sea ice.

The United States, Canada, Russia, Norway and Danish-held Greenland are sending delegates to Tromsoe, a town in Norway's Arctic, on March 17-19.

"The survival of that species is about more than the survival of polar bears, because if the polar bears get into real serious trouble then we are in for serious trouble as human beings and ... as a planet," Rasmus Hansson, head of the Norway branch of the conservation group WWF, said at a pre-meeting briefing.

The Norwegian government-hosted meeting is the first since 1981 called to discuss the 1973 Agreement for the Conservation of Polar Bears and their Habitats. It is a technical meeting, addressing measures rather than new treaties or agreements.

WWF experts said polar bears, which depend on ice to catch the seals they eat, are under pressure from the shrinking polar ice-pack and from manmade toxins that can weaken their immune systems and ability to reproduce.

The group said U.S. studies suggest that two-thirds of the world's 20,000-25,000 polar bears could vanish during the next 50 years because of climate change.

Geoff York, the WWF's polar bear coordinator, said the bears are important in their own right, and as an indicator of the Earth's health, since climate change may be hitting the far north faster than the rest of the planet.

Hansson said the Tromsoe meeting was especially important because it comes ahead of upcoming climate treaty talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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