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Polar Bears, a Melting Arctic, and the United States Endangered Species Act: The Role of Domestic Wildlife Law in Polar Biodiversity Protection

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AbstractOn May 15, 2008, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service listed the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) due to global warming and the melting of the bear’s sea-ice habitat. This highly-publicised event cemented the polar bear as the iconic example of the devastating impacts of global warming on the planet’s biodiversity, particularly with regard to impacts in the rapidly melting Arctic. The listing also raised the possibility of applying domestic wildlife law to address the seemingly intractable issue of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. In this paper we begin by providing an overview of the ESA, including its overarching objectives and key provisions. We then discuss how the ESA should operate to protect species imperiled by global warming and create an obligation on U.S. federal agencies and corporations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We use the example of the polar bear to explore the possibilities and limitations of using domestic wildlife law such as the ESA to bring the subject of global warming into the courtroom, to address greenhouse gas emissions, and to otherwise address protection of the highly imperiled polar regions.

Affiliations: 1: Centre for Biological; 2: Centre for Biological


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