Emperor penguins join polar bears on ESA list of threatened species based on flawed climate models

Yesterday, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced it will classify the Emperor penguin as ‘threatened’ with extinction under its Endangered Species Act (ESA) based on what are known to be flawed climate models, to take effect next month. This is despite the fact that Emperor penguin numbers increased between 2009 and 2019, an IUCN Red List reassessment in 2019 did not reverse its 2018 decision (still listing it as ‘near-threatened’, not ‘vulnerable’), and member-nations refused earlier this year to enact an Antarctic Treaty to protect the birds. Conservation activists of all stripes are filled with glee at this bettter-than-nothing decision for a species nowhere near extinction because it means more money for them.

Bottom line: An article by the US National Public Radio (25 October 2022) admits the real reason for this listing:

Though emperor penguins are not found naturally in the U.S., the endangered species protections will help increase funding for conservation efforts. U.S. agencies will also now be required to evaluate how fisheries and greenhouse gas-emitting projects will affect the population…

Reuters (26 October 2022) says the FWS’ justification for this action is not that penguins are currently in danger but that they might be [my bold]:

The wildlife agency said a thorough review of evidence, including satellite data from 40 years showed the penguins aren’t currently in danger of extinction, but rising temperatures signal that is likely.

Read my detailed and fully referenced blog post on this issue for background on why the predictions of doom for this species, which are based on implausibly extreme ‘worst case’ scenarios as shown below (i.e. RCP8.5 or ‘unmitigated scenario’), are as fatally flawed as those for polar bears (Crockford 2019; Hausfather and Peters 2020).

Note also that one of the co-authors of the paper used to justify this decision (Jenouvrier et al. 2020) is activist Shaye Wolfe of the Center for Biological Diversity, the organization that first petitioned for this result back in 2011. Just like they did for polar bears.

In 2018, the IUCN Red List said this about their Emperor penguin assessment, which did not change with its 2019 assessment (BirdLife International 2020) [my bold]:

This species is listed as Near Threatened because it is projected to undergo a moderately rapid population decline over the next three generations owing to the projected effects of climate change. However, it should be noted that there is considerable uncertainty over future climatic changes and how these will impact the species.


BirdLife International. 2020. Aptenodytes forsteri. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T22697752A132600320. Downloaded on 26 October 2022. https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22697752/157658053

Crockford, S.J. 2019. The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened. Global Warming Policy Foundation, London. Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Hausfather, Z. and Peters, G.P. 2020. Emissions – the ‘business as usual’ story is misleading [“Stop using the worst-case scenario for climate warming as the most likely outcome — more-realistic baselines make for better policy”]. Nature 577: 618-620

Jenouvrier, S. et al. 2020. The Paris Agreement objectives will likely halt future declines of emperor penguins. Global Change Biology 26(3): 1170-1184. [paywalled] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/gcb.14864

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