Glacier protection laws: potential conflicts in managing glacial hazards and adapting to climate change

Pablo Iribarren Anacona, Josie Kinney, Marius Schaefer, Stephan Harrison, Ryan Wilson, Alexis Segovia , Bruno Mazzorana, Felipe Guerra, David Farías, John M. Reynolds, Neil Glasser

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The environmental, socio-economic and cultural significance of glaciers has motivated several countries to regulate activities on glaciers and glacierized surroundings. However, laws written to specifically protect mountain glaciers have only recently been considered within national political agendas. Glacier Protection Laws (GPLs) originate in countries where mining has damaged glaciers and have been adopted with the aim of protecting the cryosphere from harmful activities. Here, we analyze GPLs in Argentina (approved) and Chile (under discussion) in order to identify potential environmental conflicts arising from law restrictions and omissions. We conclude that GPLs overlook the dynamics of glaciers and could prevent or delay actions needed to mitigate glacial hazards (e.g. artificial drainage of glacial lakes) thus placing populations at risk. Furthermore, GPL restrictions could hinder strategies (e.g. use of glacial lakes as reservoirs) to mitigate adverse impacts of climate change. Arguably, more flexible GPLs are needed to protect us from the changing cryosphere.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)835-845
Number of pages11
JournalAmbio: A Journal of the Human Environment
Issue number8
Early online date13 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 01 Dec 2018


  • Andes
  • glacial hazards
  • glacier protection laws
  • GLOF
  • mining


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