February 19, 2006
Twelve North American conservation groups from the U.S. and Canada petitioned the World Heritage Committee to add Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park to the list of World Heritage Sites in danger due to impacts from climate change. Climate change is causing rapid disappearance of the park’s glaciers and significant damage to the park’s vegetation and wildlife, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
“The effects of climate change are well-documented and clearly visible in Glacier National Park, and yet the U.S. has not taken action to protect the world heritage of the park by reducing its greenhouse gas emissions pursuant to its obligations under the World Heritage Convention,” said Erica Thorson, clinical professor with the International Environmental Law Project at Lewis & Clark Law School.
The petition comes on the first anniversary of the Kyoto Protocol, the landmark international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, which entered into force on Feb. 16, 2005 without the participation of the U.S. If Waterton-Glacier is listed as a site in danger, the World Heritage Committee must develop, in consultation with Canada and the U.S., a program of corrective measures to address the effects of climate change in the park.
Glacier National Park once was home to approximately 150 glaciers, but only 27 remain, and those are rapidly melting, according to CBD. Global warming is responsible for the disappearance of the park’s iconic glaciers.
“The glaciers that Glacier National Park was named for will vanish entirely by 2030 if current climate change trends continue,” said Kassie Siegel of CBD.
Concentrations of carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas, stand at over 380 parts per million (ppm), up from 280 ppm prior to the Industrial Revolution, and are continuing to rise at over 2 ppm per year, said CBD. Current atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have not been exceeded in the past 420,000 years, and likely not in the past 20 million years, said the group. The U.S. is the world’s leading greenhouse gas polluter, responsible for one-quarter of worldwide emissions.
A copy of the petition can be downloaded at International Environmental Law Project at Lewis & Clark Law School Web site or CBD’s Web site.
For a time-lapse view of retreating glaciers and changing habitat, produced by the U.S. Geological Survey, see Modeled Climate-Induced Glacier Change in Glacier National Park, 1850-2100. The abstract for this project states:
For photos of retreating glaciers in Glacier National Park, check out these USGS Web pages:
The groups submitting the petition include CBD, David Suzuki Foundation, Defenders of Wildlife, Defenders of Wildlife-Canada, Green House Network, ForestEthics, Humane Society International/Human Society of the U.S., Montana Wilderness Association, The Pembina Institute, Wildlands CPR and Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.
The World Heritage Committee was established by the World Heritage Convention, an international treaty to protect natural and cultural sites of outstanding universal value. At the request of the U.S. and Canada, the committee listed Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park (Canada’s Waterton National Park and the U.S.’s Glacier National Park) as a world heritage site in 1995 because of its scenic value and its glaciers, biological diversity, hydrology and climate, among other reasons.
The listing requires Canada and the U.S. to protect Waterton-Glacier for future generations and to “do all (they) can” to conserve and protect Waterton-Glacier and other World Heritage Sites within their territories. Additionally, all parties to the World Heritage Convention have committed to act as a global community to conserve the world’s cultural and natural heritage.
Sources: Center for Biological Diversity, U.S. Geological Survey.