Curbing global greenhouse gas emissions is the "single most important" action needed to protect polar bears, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) urged Monday.

Writing in a conservation management plan developed specifically for the species, the FWS emphasized that climate change-induced loss of sea ice cover, the bears' habitat, was a disastrous sign for the bears' survival and the number one priority to address to save the species over the long term. If emissions continue at current rates, only portions of the Canadian Arctic and northern Greenland may retain enough ice for bear habitat.

"This plan outlines the necessary actions and concrete commitments by the service and our state, tribal, federal and international partners to protect polar bears in the near term," said Greg Siekaniec, the FWS's Alaska regional director. "But make no mistake; without decisive action to address Arctic warming, the long-term fate of this species is uncertain."

"The plan shows the complexity of what it means to truly protect America's most iconic Arctic species," WWF's Arctic program officer and polar bear expert Elisabeth Kruger said. "It addresses the things we need to consider in near term and rightly highlights that climate change mitigation is the most important action needed to secure polar bear populations."

The Center for Biological Diversity said the plan "fails to require the large-scale reductions in greenhouse gases needed to save the species." Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity, feels "recovery plans work, but only if they truly address the threats to species. Sadly that simply isn't the case with this polar bear plan."

For a deeper dive:

AP, Washington Post, New York Times, The Guardian, Fusion, Buzzfeed

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