OTTAWA — Just as Canada's government prepares to mark the one-year anniversary of its national climate change action plan, comes a heart-wrenching video that could not drive home the consequences of a warming planet any harder.
The video taken by Canadian photographer Paul Nicklen shows an emaciated polar bear in clear distress, struggling to make his way over snow-free ground on Baffin Island in a desperate search for food.
Every step looks like it hurts, at times the bear plunges forward as if he can no longer go on, at others, one of his legs drags behind him. He reaches an abandoned Inuit camp and reaches into a barrel in search of food.
Nicklen, a photographer with National Geographic, posted the video to his Instagram account on Dec. 5, where it was viewed more than one million times in three days.
He says in the post "this is what starvation looks like" and says he expected the bear had just hours to live.
"My entire Sea Legacy team was pushing through their tears and emotions while documenting this dying polar bear," Nicklen wrote. "It's a soul-crushing scene that still haunts me."
He posted it hoping to draw attention to the devastation already resulting from a warming planet.
It is illegal to feed wild polar bears in Canada and even if the team had fed him it would have only put off the inevitable because the bear was at death's door.
Sea Legacy is a British Columbia-based conservation organization which Nicklen accompanied on the Baffin Island trip.
The video was taken a few months ago, at a time of year when polar bears would normally have been able to return to the Arctic sea ice to hunt seals. With ice gone for longer periods in the year, the bears have less time to hunt and more time without food.
It's killing them.
There are about 25,000 bears left and many researchers believe the entire population will be gone within a century. Nicklen urges people to think of all those animals sharing the agonizing death of the bear in the video.
He says everyone needs to consider what they can do slow the rate of climate change.
On Saturday, Canada marks one year since eight provinces and the three territories signed the Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. The plan aims to put a price on carbon, eliminate coal-fired electricity and work on energy efficiencies for buildings to help Canada cut emissions.
Environmental advocates say some progress was made on the carbon price, but 2018 is going to have to be a banner year for environmental legislation, regulation and strategies or the plan will end up on the scrap heap of climate promises past.
At least six major environment policies, bills or strategies to implement parts of the framework are expected in 2018. That includes legislation to allow the federal government to impose a carbon price on provinces that don't meet the federal standard on their own, a zero-emissions vehicle strategy, an overhaul of the environmental review and regulatory process, changes to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, regulations to force the phase out of coal-fired electricity by 2030 and a clean fuels strategy.
Plans to move forward on a national electricity grid are also possible in 2018, allowing provinces with an abundance of clean power to help out those that are trying to cut back on coal as a source of electricity.
"We have made some good progress, but we see potential risks into the new year," said Erin Flanagan, director of federal policy for the Pembina Institute.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna told The Canadian Press this week she feels "really good" about where the framework is at the one year mark.
"We still have a lot of work to do to implement it but I think we've come a long way," she said.
Flanagan wants Canada to further commit to raising the carbon price to $130 a tonne by 2030.
All countries, including Canada, are expected to raise their targets to cut emissions beyond current promises. The United Nations says existing commitments only get the world one-third of the way to keeping the planet from warming up so much that the impacts of climate change become uncontrollable.
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Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press