11 February 2018 | by Craig Kasnoff
The number of World Heritage sites being threatened with climate change has almost doubled in the last three years, increasing from 35 to 62, according to a report released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The IUCN World Heritage Outlook 2 – an update of the 2014 World Heritage Outlook report – assess changes in all “natural” World Heritage sites and examines the threats, protection and management of the sites according to the IUCN.
The concept of a World Heritage site was created by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1978 when they listed the first 12 sites. A World Heritage site is an area or landmark or area which is selected by UNESCO as having cultural, historical, scientific or other form of significance, and is legally protected by international treaties. Today there are over 1,000 World Heritage sites scattered around the globe. And of these sites over 200 are considered “natural” World Heritage sites. World Heritage sites are categorized as natural, cultural or mixed.
According to the report, climate change is impacting coral reefs, glaciers, wetlands, permafrost and other sensitive ecosystems. And the IUCN says the problems to these ecosystems will only get worse if a greater commitment is not made by governments to protect them.
“Protection of World Heritage sites is an international responsibility of the same governments that have signed up to the Paris Agreement,” says Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General. “This IUCN report sends a clear message to the delegates gathered here in Bonn: climate change acts fast and is not sparing the finest treasures of our planet. The scale and the pace at which it is damaging our natural heritage underline the need for urgent and ambitious national commitments and actions to implement the Paris Agreement.”
UNESCO has been long aware of the possible impacts climate change could have on World Heritage sites stating on their website “UNESCO has been at the forefront of exploring and managing the impacts of climate change on World Heritage. In 2006, under the guidance of the World Heritage Committee, it prepared a report on Predicting and Managing the Effects of Climate Change on World Heritage (2007), followed by a compilation of Case Studies on Climate Change and World Heritage, and a Policy Document on the Impacts of Climate Change on World Heritage Properties in 2008. In May 2014, it published a practical guide to Climate Change Adaptation for Natural World Heritage Sites and continues to build the capacity of site managers to deal with climate change.”
Tim Badman, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme says, “Natural World Heritage sites play a crucial role supporting local economies and livelihoods.” Adding, “Their destruction can thus have devastating consequences that go beyond their exceptional beauty and natural value. In Peru’s Huascarán National Park, for example, melting glaciers affect water supplies and contaminate water and soil due to the release of heavy metals previously trapped under ice. This adds to the urgency of our challenge to protect these places.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is a membership Union uniquely composed of both government and civil society organisations. It provides public, private and non-governmental organisations with the knowledge and tools that enable human progress, economic development and nature conservation to take place together.
Created in 1948, IUCN has evolved into the world’s largest and most diverse environmental network. It harnesses the experience, resources and reach of its 1,300 Member organisations and the input of some 10,000 experts. IUCN is the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it. Our experts are organised into six commissions dedicated to species survival, environmental law, protected areas, social and economic policy, ecosystem management, and education and communication.
Photos and video: IUCN
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