Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

For Immediate Release: March 16, 2006

Erica Thorson, Clinical Professor of Law, Lewis & Clark Law School, (503) 768-6715;
Kassie Siegel, Center for Biological Diversity, (760) 366-2232 x302 or (951) 961-7972;

U.S. Position Paper Denies Accepted Science on Global Warming

The U.S. government is strongly opposing efforts by the United Nations to protect some of the most vulnerable World Heritage Sites from the impacts of global warming. The move comes as a meeting of experts convened by UNESCO begins today in Paris in response to petitions to protect World Heritage Sites threatened by climate change, including Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park (in the U.S. and Canada), on Mount Everest and the Peruvian Andes where glaciers are rapidly melting, and the Belize Reef and Great Barrier Reefs (in Australia) which are being damaged due to climate change.

In a position paper posted on the conference website, the Bush administration argues against any action under the World Heritage Convention and attempts to cast doubt on the science of global warming.

“The administration is wrong on the science, and it’s wrong on the law,” said Chris Wold, Associate Professor of Law and Director of the International Environmental Law Project at the Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, and co-author of the petition to protect Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. “This position paper repudiates the well-established science of global warming, and contradicts other official U.S. government documents on climate change.”

The apparent author of the position paper is Paul Hoffman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior, a Bush political appointee who gained national notoriety last year for his proposed re-write of National Park Service rules, which, according to a New York Times editorial, did “everything possible to strip away a scientific basis for park management.” The position paper makes a number of misstatements relating to climate change science, including the following:

Misstatement Number 1: “There is not unanimity regarding the impacts, causes, and how to or if man can affect the changes we are observing.”

This statement contradicts the scientific consensus that has existed for years on the causes of climate change. A 2002 National Academy of Sciences Report, Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions, affirmed the now well-known principle that “[g]reenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth’s atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and sub-surface ocean temperatures to rise. Temperatures are, in fact, rising.” At that time, greenhouse gas concentrations had increased from about 280 parts per million (ppm) at the start of the Industrial Revolution to about 370 ppm, and the Report found that “[h]uman activities are responsible for the increase.” Greenhouse gas concentrations now stand at 380 ppm. The National Academy of Sciences Report summary was incorporated into the U.S. Department of State’s U.S. Climate Action Report, submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat in 2002 as the official position of the U.S. government. The causes and impacts of global warming are not in doubt.

Misstatement Number Two: “[T]here currently is not enough data available to distinguish whether climatic changes at the named World Heritage Sites are the result of human-induced climate change or natural variability.”

As early as 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Third Assessment Report, confirmed by the National Academy of Sciences, stated that “there is new and stronger evidence that most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.” In the past five years the evidence has continued to mount and is now unassailable. Groundbreaking research by NASA in 2005 confirmed, via precise measurements of ocean temperature, the Earth’s energy imbalance due to greenhouse gas concentrations. Another leading paper demonstrated that the observed warming of the world’s oceans is far beyond what can be explained by any source of natural variability.

“The administration’s attempt to contradict global warming science is analogous to stating ‘the Earth is flat,’” said Kassie Siegel, Climate Program Director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Climate change threatens natural treasures like Glacier National Park, biodiversity, public health, and our nation’s future prosperity. The administration’s dangerous and irresponsible attempts to block progress must stop.”

After running roughshod over well-established scientific facts, the United States, which was only elected to the 21-member World Heritage Committee in October 2005, attempts to bully other nations into acceding to its do-nothing approach, stating, “There is no compelling argument for the Committee to address the issue of global climate change – especially at the risk of losing the unified spirit and camaraderie that has become synonymous with World Heritage.”

Peter Roderick, co-Director of the Climate Justice Programme which supports the petitions, and an attendee of today’s meeting, said “Opposing the international consensus on climate change is standard practice from the current U.S. government. But I am surprised that they are trying to undermine the previous Committee’s decision quite so soon after becoming a member. The Committee has already recognized the dangers that climate change poses to the best parts of the planet, and it is entirely appropriate for it to investigate the threat and draw up an urgent plan of action.”

Today’s meeting of experts was called for at a World Heritage Committee meeting last year in which the Committee acknowledged the “genuine concerns” raised by the petitions filed to protect World Heritage Sites from climate change, and recognized the damage that climate change is already causing to a number of sites across the world. The petitioners are calling on the Committee to take remedial action to protect the World Heritage Sites and to take international action to cut carbon dioxide emissions to protect the sites for future generations. The report by today’s expert working group will be discussed by the World Heritage Committee in July.

The Petition to list Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park on the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger due to impacts from climate change, one of five petitions under consideration, was filed February 16, 2006 by the International Environmental Law Project (IELP) at Lewis & Clark Law School on behalf of 15 conservation organizations, including the Center for Biological Diversity, and two individuals.

A copy of the petition can be downloaded at or


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