In November of 1973, the United States, Canada, Norway, Denmark, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics entered into the Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears to protect polar bears in the Arctic Region. The Agreement prohibited the “taking” of the majestic creatures via prohibiting the hunting and capturing of the bears.
“Taking” language, used in many laws and international treaties, has consistently employed the prohibition of the killing—in some fashion—of various species. This is evident in international treaties such as the Bonn Convention. “Taking” also adapts this prohibitive language in national legislation, such as the Endangered Species Act. In the years since these treaties, statutes, and the Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears entered into force, however, “taking” has taken on a new identity: global warming. With recent uninhibited melting of the Polar ice caps, polar bears are facing a much greater threat than ever perceived.
To protect the polar bears consistent with the ideals of the Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears, spending years on entering into new international treaties or legislation is not the solution. The Agreement is already in force, and its “taking” provision must be redefined to ensure the survival of the polar bear species. Updating the already existing treaty requires not only the adaptation of “taking” provisions from pieces of legislation such as the Endangered Species Act, but also the incorporation of specific language accounting for the detrimental effects of global warming.
Finally, to ensure that the Agreement is binding and effective, there must be some incentive to compel participating countries to comply. The Kyoto Protocol and recent Bali discussions may provide the solution.
Global warming is indeed “taking” polar bears, inconsistent with the protection that the Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears initially sought. The Agreement’s “taking” provision requires redefinition to account for modern environmental concerns. While there may be other instruments available in the future that may provide long term solutions to the threat of global warming, updating the Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears is surely the best way to begin alleviating the dramatic and detrimental effect that global warming has had on the polar bears.
- Global Warming,
- Polar Bear,
- Agreement On the Conservation of Polar Bears,
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