Questions and answers to the CAP

Questions and Answers on the Circumpolar Action Plan


Category 1: The CAP

  1. Why (for what purpose, under what authority) was the CAP developed? 

In 1973, the Governments of Canada, Denmark (in respect of Greenland), Norway, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (now Russia) and the United States of America signed the Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears.  That Agreement was entered into in recognition of the polar bear as a significant resource of the Arctic Region and pledging coordinated measures to further their conservation.  Article 9 of the Agreement states that the Contracting Parties shall continue to consult with one another in order to further protect polar bears.  It was through this consultation that the Parties recognized the value of developing a Circumpolar Action Plan. 


At their 2009 Meeting in Tromsø, Norway, the Range States agreed that the impacts of climate change and the continued and increasing loss and fragmentation of sea ice – the key habitat for both polar bears and their main prey species – constitute the most important threat to polar bear conservation.  The Range States acknowledged with deep concern the escalating rates and extent of changes in the Arctic induced by climate change to date and noted that future changes are projected to be even larger.  The Range States agreed that the long-term conservation of polar bears depends upon successful mitigation, or lessening, of climate change.  To address the growing concern over climate change and a number of other emerging issues, the Range States agreed to develop a coordinated plan for polar bear conservation and management – a Circumpolar Action Plan: Conservation Strategy for Polar Bear.

At the 40th Anniversary of the 1973 Agreement in 2013, the Range States reaffirmed their shared responsibility for ensuring polar bear conservation, research and agreed-to collaborative action.  The Range States pledged to use the Circumpolar Action Plan as the appropriate mechanism for international cooperation for managing and reducing stressors on polar bears and their ecosystems. 


    2.  How will the CAP benefit polar bear conservation?

The intention of the CAP is to build on and support efforts at the national level.  Enhancing and focusing international cooperation will lead to more efficient and effective use of resources.  A number of areas are identified within the CAP where the sharing of information across Range States would help further the conservation of polar bears.  One example is the sharing of best management practices for addressing industrial development in polar bear habitat. 


Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions will require global action; however, such global action is outside the scope of this Plan.  The Range States will look to other fora and appropriate national and international mechanisms to take action to address climate change. However, the Range States believe that ongoing efforts to negotiate strategies to address climate change should be informed by the significant influence that climate change will have on our ability to conserve polar bears for future generations.  In a supporting action, the Range States have committed to develop a communications strategy about the impact of climate change of polar bears.

While nations negotiate and implement long-term solutions to Arctic warming, the Range States will strive to conserve the broad geographical distribution (or range) and ecological diversity of polar bears.  To that end, actions that the Range States can take to directly improve the conservation status of polar bears in the short-term (i.e., 10 years) are outlined in this Plan.  The strategic approaches outlined in Part II of the Plan will provide the best opportunity to secure the long-term persistence of polar bears.

This Plan acknowledges that no single country or agency can address an environmental challenge of global proportions, such as climate change, without allying itself with others in partnerships around the world. This Plan commits the Range States to interdependent, collaborative conservation, and is designed to further facilitate cooperative action by the national agencies of the Range States. Coordinated action, as outlined in this Plan, is necessary for the global conservation of polar bears, and will guide the Range States’ management and conservation decisions for the species.

To effectively address the effects of climate change and other threats to polar bears, the Range States must plan for conservation on landscape scales and must be prepared to act quickly, sometimes without the scientific certainty they would prefer.  They must adopt the precautionary approach, confident that the actions taken can be changed or adapted as new information becomes available.


    3.  How does the CAP address commitments made under the 1973 Agreement and other multilateral forums?

The CAP is intended to build on those already made commitments.  It does not undermine or change national or bilateral commitments, but establishes an overarching vision, objectives and guiding principles that serve as a foundation for the actions to be undertaken by the Range States for the conservation of polar bears.  The CAP is intended to focus on those actions most in need of international coordination, recognizing that these efforts will be complementary to those being undertaken by each Range State individually as well as by subsets of the Range States working cooperatively on shared subpopulations of polar bears. 


    4.  What have the Range States learned about collaborative conservation work throughout the development of the CAP?

Working together to draft the CAP has reinforced the number of issues and actions that are common across the Range States.  We realize we have much more in common than the differences that separate us.  It is encouraging that when we are each individually dealing with challenges within our jurisdiction we can learn from others who have struggled with similar issues.  Given the limited available resources for polar bear conservation and management, we strive to not reinvent the wheel and to learn from each other.  We recognize that prescriptions will have to be individually tailored to specific circumstances of a particular subpopulation and jurisdiction, but those specific prescriptions can be informed by the experience of others. 


    5.  What are the strengths of the CAP?

The CAP provides an opportunity for the Range States to send clear and consistent messages on issues of importance to polar bear conservation.  Specifically, the CAP presents the clear message from the Range States that global action is required to adequately address greenhouse gas emissions. 

 The CAP recognizes that conserving the broad spatial distribution and ecological diversity of polar bears and their habitat across the Arctic over the near- and mid-term, while nations negotiate longer term solutions to Arctic warming, provides the most opportunity for future conservation actions to secure the long-term persistence of polar bears.  This goal reflects a broad societal desire to secure the status of polar bears throughout their range.


    6.  What are the implications of an action being in or not being in the CAP? 

Actions identified in the CAP are those deemed to be a necessary and appropriate international focus during the next ten years.  These actions are intended to be supplemental to and complementary to the priority actions identified in national and bilateral plans. 

 If an action is not included in the CAP, it does not necessarily mean it is deemed to be less important than actions included in the CAP.  The CAP focuses on actions most appropriate for international coordination and collaboration – therefore, actions that are more appropriate at the national level may be more appropriately reflected in national plans than in the CAP itself.  Other actions may be appropriate for international collaboration and coordination, but not necessarily a focus area for the next ten years.  While not included in the CAP at this time, these actions may be added to the CAP as implementation progresses.  


Category 2: Relationship between the CAP and National Plans Agreements

  1. Why was there considered to be a need for a circumpolar plan when there are national plans for most of the circumpolar countries?

The CAP is intended to focus on those areas that would benefit the most from international coordination and collaboration.  National plans tend to focus on those actions within the control of one country or Party and these are supplemented by commitments made bilaterally for shared subpopulations.  The CAP then adds another layer to focus on those actions and areas where the Range State intend to coordinate in order to further polar bear conservation. 


    2.  How does the CAP align with national action/management plans?

The CAP is intended to be supplementary to national plans.  It is not intended to duplicate those plans or dictate to any one Party how to conduct management and research within its jurisdiction.  Rather, in recognition of limited resources and the transboundary nature of polar bears, as well as many of the actions affecting them and their habitats, the CAP identifies areas where working together we can increase our chances of success.  The website contains links to the national plans where additional information can be obtained.   


    3.  How does the CAP align with Bilateral Agreements? 

The CAP is intended to supplement and not replace Bilateral Agreements and commitments.  The vision and general principles identified in the CAP are intended to be consistent with those employed domestically by the Range States as well as the approaches used in bilateral agreements and arrangements.  Direct management of shared subpopulations will continue to occur through bilateral agreements and not through the CAP.


    4.  Is the CAP a regulatory document? 

No, the CAP is not a regulatory document.  It has been drafted by the Range States to further their shared goal of furthering the international conservation and management of polar bears.  In signing the CAP, the Range States indicate their support for the CAP and their commitment to work together to implement the CAP.  Specific actions would still need to be implemented consistent with applicable laws and regulations. 


    5.  Are countries required to implement the actions in the CAP?  What happens if they do not? 

In approving the CAP, the Range States are indicating support for the actions in the CAP and a commitment to their implementation.  This commitment is made in good faith, and is always contingent on available funding and resources.  The more detailed two year action plan was prepared to provide greater specificity and transparency on new actions being committed to and the associated costs.  The intention is to review the action plan every two years to monitor progress.  That review will both document what actions have been implemented as well as whether they have been effective.  The review will also provide an opportunity to add or change actions based on new information and lessons learned.  In this way, implementation of the CAP is intended to be adaptive. 


If countries do not implement actions in the CAP, the first thing that will happen is a conversation among the Range States.  Failure to implement an action could be due to a number of factors including changing priorities or insufficient resources.  A discussion among the Range States could identify another country willing and able to step in, or agreement that another action is a higher priority and more worthy of immediate implementation. 


Category 3: Roles and Responsibilities in Drafting and Implementing the CAP

    1.  Were the relevant Indigenous groups involved in the drafting of the CAP?

Each of the Parties provided input and content for the CAP based on their internal domestic plans and consultations with interested and affected parties and co-management partners.  Since the CAP builds on the domestic plans, the Parties were able to bring forward the input and insights gained during the development of their domestic plans in order to inform the approach and content of the CAP.  Also, as the CAP was being developed, Parties undertook domestic consultation, as appropriate, to seek additional review and input. 


    2.  Do you see a role for non-Range State countries in meeting objectives outlined in the CAP?  What role could environmental NGOs play?

The CAP identifies changing sea ice due to greenhouse gas emissions as the largest threat to polar bears and clearly identifies the need for global action to adequately address that threat.  It is very clear that the goal of healthy polar bear populations into the future can only be achieved with the active engagement of non-Range State countries. 


The NGOs also have a very key role to play in facilitating implementation of the CAP and in the long term conservation or polar bears.  First, NGOs can help work with the Range States to seek global action to adequately address greenhouse gas emissions.  Secondly, NGOs are already actively involved in a wide range of polar bear research and management actions and clearly continuation and enhancement of these efforts will only compliment the activities of the Range States which are the focus of the CAP.  In addition, various industrial sectors can adopt BMPs and in doing so also become conservation partners.    


Category 4: Climate Change

  1. Given that the Range States recognize that climate change is the most significant threat to polar bears, how will the CAP deal with this issue?

The CAP clearly recognizes that the long-term survival of polar bears in the wild depends on adequate mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions by the global community.  Under the CAP, the Range States take the responsibility of clearly communicating the consequences of actions to address greenhouse gas emissions on the future of polar bears.  Clearly communicating accurate and timely information on the relationship between greenhouse gas emission control and the effect on sea ice will allow for informed decisions to be made with a full understanding and consideration of the consequences of alternative actions. 


     2.  If climate change is the major threat facing polar bears, then why does the CAP include actions to address lesser threats like human-caused mortality, oil and gas development, tourism, etc.?

While it is clear that further action must be taken to address greenhouse gas emissions, other actions and activities have the potential to negatively impact polar bears and their habitats and action is also appropriate to address these threats.  While global action to address climate change is essential for the long term conservation of polar bears, other actions are also necessary in the near term to ensure that existing polar bear populations are in the best position possible to respond and adapt to changing ice conditions and have sufficient resiliency to recover from poor conditions.  The CAP also recognizes that as habitat changes occur as a result of climate change, the impact of other threats may become elevated.  The CAP emphasizes the importance of considering cumulative impacts and also of considering polar bear management in an ecosystem context. 


Category 5:  Funding

  1. Where will funding come from to pay for action listed in the 2-year implementation table?

The Range States have committed to the activities included in the 2-year implementation table.  They intend to make available the necessary funds and personnel to implement these actions, wherever possible.  Adoption of the CAP does not automatically come with an allocation of additional funds.  In order to undertake the actions in the 2-year implementation table, each Party must identify the necessary resources and in some cases this may be accomplished through an increase in the domestic allocation and in other cases it may be the result of reprogramming existing funds. 


Category 6:  Outreach and Communication

  1. How will results of activities from the CAP be communicated to the global community?

Progress of the CAP will be evaluated every two years and the results will be posted on the Range States website and shared by other means (e.g., publications, presentations).  The evaluation will identify which actions have been implemented and also whether they have had the desired effect.  The CAP recognizes that activities conducted by a number of other international organizations have the potential to reduce the effects of specific activities (e.g., shipping, tourism) on polar bears and their habitats.  As the Range States identify appropriate actions to be undertaken for the benefit of polar bears, they will seek opportunities to engage with other international organizations and entities who have competencies in these areas.