Climate warning for UN heritage sites
BONN, Germany — Climate change imperils one in four United Nations-listed natural heritage sites, including coral reefs, glaciers and wetlands — nearly double the number from just three years ago, a report said on Monday.
The number of UNESCO sites at risk has grown to 62 from 35 in 2014, when one in seven were listed, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which released the report at UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany.
The report found that 29 percent of UNESCO natural sites faced “significant” threats, and 7 percent — including the Everglades National Park in the United States and Lake Turkana in Kenya — had a “critical” outlook.
Among the ecosystems most threatened by global warming are coral reefs which bleach as oceans heat up, and glaciers which melt.
Three World Heritage-listed coral reefs — the Aldabra Atoll in the Indian Ocean, the Belize Barrier Reef in the Atlantic and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef — have been affected by “devastating” bleaching over the last three years, said the report.
“Retreating glaciers, also resulting from rising temperatures, threaten sites such as Kilimanjaro National Park, which boasts Africa’s highest peak, and the Swiss Alps Jungfrau Aletsch, home to the largest Alpine glacier,” said the union.
Wetlands, low-lying deltas, permafrost and fire-sensitive ecosystems are also affected by changes to Earth’s climate, it added.
“The increase and the speed in which we are seeing this trend shift over just three years has been shocking to us, and the report warns that this number is likely to grow,” said Inger Andersen, the director general of the union.
“The scale and pace at which it (climate change) is damaging our natural heritage underline the need for urgent and ambitious national commitments and actions to implement the Paris Agreement,” said Andersen.
Harm to natural sites endangers local economies and livelihoods, the IUCN said.
“In Peru’s Huascaran 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.”
Only invasive plant and animal species surpassed climate change as a risk to natural heritage sites, said the union. And climate change boosts their spread.
Sites on the World Heritage list are earmarked for protection for future generations.
Countries assume responsibility under the World Heritage Convention to protect listed sites within their borders.
The report said the management of heritage sites has declined since 2014, “notably due to insufficient funding.”
The Bonn meeting was the first of UN climate envoys since President Donald Trump said he would pull the US out of the Paris Agreement, a move many fear will make the 2 C goal that much harder to reach.