As climate change progresses, glaciers worldwide continue to melt, and Chile, which holds 82% of South America’s glaciated land, is no exception. In addition to warming temperatures, the glaciers of southern Chile are threatened by explosions and pollution caused by mining operations near and atop the glaciers—harmful practices that have prompted environmental advocacy group Greenpeace to take matters into its own hands.
On March 5, 2014, Greenpeace declared a new country, the “Glacier Republic,” consisting of all 8,800 square miles of glaciated Chilean land. This bold environmental declaration was Greenpeace’s best attempt to protect Chilean glaciers from the unpunished corporate gold mining practices that pollute and excavate the ice at unsustainable rates.
The reason for the previous lack of environmental protection in the area was that, according to Greenpeace Chile director Matías Asún, Chile’s Constitution and water code exluded glaciers as public goods in need of protection. According to Asún, this legal loophole gives Greenpeace the ability to lay claim to the icy expanse.
Since the republic’s inception, Greenpeace has worked to ensure that the Glacier Republic can qualify as an actual nation. As of now, the unrecognized state has a population of over 165,000 petition signers, as well as a flag, a Declaration of Independence, a tent in the Andes serving as the capital, and 40 international embassies (conveniently located in Greenpeace’s international offices), satisfying all of the requirements for statehood outlined in the Montevideo Convention.
The group pledges to maintain its claims to sovereignty until all mining near glaciated areas is completely abandoned, including the Chilean government’s proposed expansion of the Andina copper mine, which would, if enacted, destroy nearly 20 square miles of glaciers and contaminate the watershed that provides water for six million Chileans.
As of today, the Glacier Republic is not recognized by any member of the United Nations, and unfortunately for Greenpeace, environmental protection has once again taken a back seat to economic opportunity.