We argue the need to improve climate change forecasting for ecology, and importantly, how to relate long-term projections to conservation. As an example, we discuss the need for effective management of one species, the emperor penguin, Aptenodyptes forsteri. This species is unique amongst birds in that its breeding habit is critically dependent upon seasonal fast ice. Here, we review its vulnerability to ongoing and projected climate change, given that sea ice is susceptible to changes in winds and temperatures. We consider published projections of future emperor penguin population status in response to changing environments. Furthermore, we evaluate the current IUCN Red List status for the species, and recommend that its status be changed to Vulnerable, based on different modelling projections of population decrease of ≥50% over the current century, and the specific traits of the species. We conclude that current conservation measures are inadequate to protect the species under future projected scenarios. Only a reduction in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions will reduce threats to the emperor penguin from altered wind regimes, rising temperatures and melting sea ice; until such time, other conservation actions are necessary, including increased spatial protection at breeding sites and foraging locations. The designation of large-scale marine spatial protection across its range would benefit the species, particularly in areas that have a high probability of becoming future climate change refugia. We also recommend that the emperor penguin is listed by the Antarctic Treaty as an Antarctic Specially Protected Species, with development of a species Action Plan.