An international action plan is to be drawn up to save the polar bear, now threatened with extinction because climate change is melting its Arctic sea ice habitat.

The five countries with polar bear populations, the United States, Canada, Russia, Norway and Greenland, agreed in principle on a circumpolar scheme to protect the animal's dwindling living space.

The plan, to be drawn up by a team of polar bear experts, is likely to call for protected areas for denning in winter and no hunting in summer in Arctic territory of each of the five nations - where future industrial activity would be limited.

It would also seek to establish reserves in those areas of sea ice likely to be the last to melt as global warming takes hold: the High Arctic regions of north-west Greenland and the Canadian archipelago.

The plan is also likely to deal with the issue of hunting, or "harvesting", the bears by Arctic native peoples (and in Canada also by sports hunters), which kills about 700 polar bears a year out of a global population of about 22,000.