The effects of the interglacial period on the Earth are depicted by a clear reduction of the cryosphere and hence glaciers. The latter geological elements provide ecological services of vital importance for the maintenance of human settlements and ecosystems because of being natural reservoirs that regulate and purify water, allowing the development and maintenance of the habitat for a significant part of the existing flora and fauna . Glaciers have also an important economic, social and cultural value; enabling the development of relevant activities such as agriculture, power generation, tourism, conservation, among others.
More than two thirds of the fresh water of the world is contained in solid structures located on Polar Regions or high mountains. However, the current interglacial period jointly with anthropogenic processes and global warming are causing the fast recoiling of the cryosphere on earth.
Notwithstanding the presence of several international instruments that partially refer to glaciers influencing their treatment in some aspects , there is neither an instrument that specifically regulates the status of glaciers in international law nor a convention nor multilateral treaty that expressly refers to the glaciers by providing principles or minimum legal regulations for their conservation or environmental protection.
The aim of this paper is therefore to understand in general terms the phenomenon of glaciers and decipher the challenges that international law faced in dealing with the protection and conservation of these glaciological elements.
The research method for this paper was based on a deductive reasoning and on the search for an answer to the question is there an international legal framework regarding the protection and conservancy of glaciers.
Taking into consideration the fact that there is no specific international body addressing this issue in general, the first step was to conduct a review and analysis of the international legal instruments focusing in those similar areas as the international environmental law, the law of climate change, among others. The aim of this review was to find regulations and principles that relate in some way to the glaciers or that could provide a comparative perspective of how the protection of glaciers should be undertaken. This stage also included the search for national or binational regimes from which they can be obtained ideas regarding the current best practices and measures for the protection of glaciers.
The second step was to critically review the literature either from the legal and the public policies perspective, looking for previous stated concerns and developed ideas regarding the issue of interest. This stage was conducted through the review of secondary sources such as doctrine publications, research papers, journals, and international organizations reports, among others.
The case study for the purposes of this work was the analysis of regulations regarding the 6,600 kilometres of Andean border shared between Chile and Argentina where there are located an important number of transboundary glaciers as well as transboundary hydrological systems comprising glaciers.
III. Results and Discussions.
From all glacier definitions reviewed it is possible to extract some main common features of all glaciers:
- Object: Ice mass
- Temporary nature: Perennial
- Location: Continental crust
- Mobility nature: In flow
The areas where glaciers are located are usually classified as fragile mountainous ecosystems , since their functions of water regulating and purifying not only serve for the human consumption of settlements but also allows the maintenance of wetlands that serve as hotspots of biodiversity.
There is neither an instrument that specifically regulates the status of glaciers in international law nor a convention nor multilateral treaty that expressly refers to the glaciers providing principles or minimum legal regulations for their conservation or environmental protection. However, there are some international instruments that somehow refer to glaciers influencing their treatment in some aspects.
Since the Treaty of Limits of 1881 between Chile and Argentina, both countries have maintained more than 130 years of pacific tradition addressing the issues regarding transboundary waters and ecosystems notwithstanding the fact that there are still many areas for improvement especially in what regards to the protection of glaciers.
In the same path as followed by the international community to reach agreement for regulating the protection of the wetlands on RAMSAR Convention, it would be desirable that efforts be focused on regulating the protection and conservation of glaciers or their explicit incorporation in any of the international instruments related to water management.
In relation to the management of transboundary ice masses, it is encouraging to see how Chile and Argentina have addressed this topic in relation to transboundary waters. Glaciers may join in that same scheme together with the introduction of the necessary adjustments according to the lessons of 133 years of application of the Treaty of Limits of 1881.
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