PORTLAND, Ore. — Today, 12 conservation organizations from the United States 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.
“The effects of climate change are well-documented and clearly visible in Glacier National Park, and yet the United States 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,” notes Erica Thorson, a clinical professor with the International Environmental Law Project (IELP) at Lewis & Clark Law School and lead author of the petition.
Today’s petition comes on the first anniversary of the Kyoto Protocol, the landmark international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, which entered into force on February 16, 2005 without the participation of the United States. If Waterton-Glacier is listed as a World Heritage Site in Danger, the World Heritage Committee must develop, in consultation with Canada and the United States, a program of corrective measures to address the effects of climate change in the park.
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 United States 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 outstanding scenic value and its unique glaciers, biological diversity, hydrology and climate, among other reasons. That listing requires Canada and the United States 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.
Glacier National Park once boasted approximately 150 glaciers, but only 27 remain, and those are rapidly melting. 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 the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the petitioners. “The United States and Canada must immediately reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to slow the damage.”
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 two ppm per year. Current atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have not been exceeded in the past 420,000 years, and likely not in the past 20 million years. The United States is the world’s leading greenhouse gas polluter, responsible for one-quarter of worldwide emissions.
Today’s petition urges the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to protect Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Industrialized countries must eventually cut greenhouse pollution by 80 percent in order to stabilize the rapidly warming climate.
“Measures like increasing fuel efficiency for automobiles, increasing energy efficiency standards for buildings and appliances, and promoting greater energy conservation will make a large dent in emissions while benefiting the economy,” said Ms. Siegel. “There is no excuse for not implementing measures like these immediately.”
The petition joins four others that will be discussed by a group of experts on climate change and World Heritage Sites at a meeting next month in Paris. Other petitioners have asked the World Heritage Committee to list the following sites as “in Danger”: Belize Barrier Reef, Huarascán National Park in Peru, Sagarmatha National Park in Nepal, and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Today’s petition is the first for a site within the United States.
“We urge the United States, as the world’s top greenhouse gas emitter, to reduce emissions to help prevent further damage to glaciers and other outstanding values of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park,” said Ms. Thorson.
The groups submitting the petition include the Center for Biological Diversity, David Suzuki Foundation, Defenders of Wildlife, Defenders of Wildlife-Canada, Green House Network, ForestEthics, Humane Society International/Human Society of the United States, Montana Wilderness Association, The Pembina Institute, Wildlands CPR, and Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.
A copy of the petition can be downloaded at http://www.lclark.edu/org/ielp or www.biologicaldiversity.org.
For a time-lapse view of retreating glaciers and changing habitat produced by the U.S. Geological Survey, see: http://www.nrmsc.usgs.gov/research/glacier_model.htm. For photos of retreating glaciers in Glacier National Park, see:
http://www.nrmsc.usgs.gov/images/grinariel.jpg (Grinnell Glacier 1850-1993)
http://www.nrmsc.usgs.gov/images/grlake3.jpg (Grinnell Glacier 1910-1997)
http://www.nrmsc.usgs.gov/images/color131.jpg (Grinnell Glacier 1850-1981)
The photographs from these Web sites are in the public domain (unless otherwise noted). They can be used provided that proper credit is given to the U.S. Geological Survey or to Glacier National Park, depending on which photograph is used. Glacier National Park asks that the park name be used in the credit. The U.S. Geological Survey asks that the following credit be given to the use of its photographs:
Credit: U.S. Geological Survey
Department of the Interior/USGS
U.S. Geological Survey/photo by Jane Doe (if the photographer/artist is known)
The full information policy of the U.S. Geological Survey can be found at: http://www.usgs.gov/info_policies.html