London, May 31 : Conservationists have launched a campaign to list Arctic seals as an endangered species, with some arguing that all arctic species should be red-listed.
According to a report in New Scientist, the campaign comes after the US decided to list the polar bear as an endangered species because of the threat of climate change.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed the polar bear on its Red List of endangered species in 2006 because it deemed that its population would drop by more than 30% in three generations due to climate change, one of the IUCN's strict rules for classifying a species as endangered.
Now, the Center for Biological Conservation have launched a petition to have ringed, bearded and spotted seals added to the US Endangered Species Act. Like the polar bear, all three species rely on ice at some point in their life cycles.
"While the polar bear may be the first Arctic species listed under the Endangered Species Act due to global warming, it will, unfortunately, not be the last," said Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that between 1°C and 3°C of warming could increase the risk of extinction for up to 30% of species. Between 4°C and 5°C could cause more than 40% of species around the globe to disappear.
"Arctic sea ice is melting so rapidly in the face of global warming that every ice-dependent marine mammal is imperiled and needs the protections of the Endangered Species Act," said Wolf.
IUCN is currently working on guidelines to help nations assess the future threat posed by climate change to individual species. It hopes to have this ready in summer 2008.
"We are working with life history traits -if a species has very specific requirements, how will those be affected by climate change?" said Wendy Foden of IUCN.
She and her colleagues have identified 84 traits - such as migration timing and a requirement for certain temperatures - that could make a species vulnerable.
They are now engaged in a mammoth project to assess all birds, amphibians and warm water corals - 16,800 species in total - for these traits. They will present their preliminary findings in October at the World Conservation Congress.
Once the species are listed, there remains the difficult issue of what can be done to protect them.
"We can eliminate all other threats that might be operating on the species, such as hunting and habitat destruction," said Foden. "This will give the species the best chance of surviving climate change. Listing species on global and federal threatened species lists will help in this regard," she added.