Kakadu to You

Published September 1, 1999

At a summer meeting of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris, an attempt was made by that world-wide environmental bureaucracy to dictate land use in Australia.

An alphabet soup of U.N.-related “advisory” bodies (IUCN, ICOMOS, and ICCROM), encouraged by anti-civilization groups such as Earth First! fought hard to have Australia’s Kakadu National Park labeled “in danger,” thus bringing world-wide pressure to bear to shut down the park’s Jabiluka uranium mine.

If the vote at the Paris meeting had succeeded in applying the “in danger” designation to Kakadu, Australia would have almost certainly lost the mine–which is entirely underground, operates in an ecologically sound manner, and, according to the Australian government, represents no danger to the park or the environment.

The threat to Australia’s sovereignty endangers the rest of the world as well. It stems from the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, an obscure and vaguely worded treaty signed by world leaders, including President Richard Nixon, and ratified by a Democrat senate in 1972.

That treaty established mechanisms for naming World Heritage Sites and led eventually to the naming of U.N. Biosphere sites. Member countries are pledged to abide by vague rules, mostly unstated at the time of signing, governing the designated sites. A 1971 treaty, the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (also known as the Ramsar [Iran] Convention), applied the same kind of vague and ever-changing rules to selected wetlands.

Could U.N.-sponsored Agencies Dictate U.s. Land Use?

The short answer is yes. The U.S. has 85 Biosphere Reserves, World Heritage Sites, and Ramsar Sites. Though defenders of international control of land use have pointed out that “State Entities”–sovereign countries such as the U.S.–are not required to obey U.N. rules regarding management of these sites, Articles Four, Five, and Six of the 1972 treaty largely make compliance mandatory.

Even when a “State Entity” does attempt to resist a U.N. mandate, as Australia did when it proceeded with the Jabiluka mine, international anti-civilization groups, such as Earth First! can bring intense political pressure. Once a site is listed as “in danger,” that pressure becomes virtually impossible to resist, as America’s Crown Butte Mines, Inc. learned.

It Has Already Happened Here

In 1986, Crown Butte Mines proposed development of a Montana site known as the New World Mine–near, but not in, Yellowstone Park. As reported by Jeremy Rabkin of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, 14 anti-civilization groups in 1995 persuaded the World Heritage Committee to list Yellowstone as “in danger” because of the mining plans. After a long battle, Crown Butte announced in August 1996 that it was discontinuing its effort to develop the mine.

During the struggle, the Clinton-Gore administration maintained that it did not perceive U.N. efforts to rule on land use in the U.S. as a usurpation of U.S. sovereignty or domestic law.