Cli­mate change im­per­ils one in four nat­u­ral her­itage sites: re­port

The Freeman - - OPINION - Mar­iëtte Le Roux,

BONN, Ger­many — Cli­mate change im­per­ils one in four nat­u­ral World Her­itage sites, in­clud­ing co­ral reefs, glaciers, and wet­lands – nearly dou­ble the num­ber from just three years ago, a re­port said yes­ter­day.

The num­ber of 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 (IUCN), which re­leased the re­port at UN cli­mate talks in Bonn, Ger­many.

Among the ecosys­tems most threat­ened by global warm­ing are co­ral reefs which bleach as oceans heat up, and glaciers which melt.

"Cli­mate change acts fast and is not spar­ing the finest trea­sures of our planet," said IUCN di­rec­tor gen­eral Inger An­der­sen.

The re­port found that 29 per­cent of World Her­itage sites faced "sig­nif­i­cant" cli­mate change threats, and seven per­cent – in­clud­ing the Ever­glades Na­tional Park in the United States and Lake Turkana in Kenya – had a "crit­i­cal" out­look.

"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.

Ne­go­tia­tors are gath­ered in Bonn to work out a nuts-and­bolts rule­book for ex­e­cut­ing the planet-res­cue pact adopted by nearly 200 coun­tries in the French cap­i­tal in 2015.

The agree­ment seeks to limit av­er­age global warm­ing caused by green­house gases from fos­sil-fuel burn­ing to un­der two de­grees Cel­sius (3.6 de­grees Fahren­heit) over prein­dus­trial lev­els, and to 1.5 C if pos­si­ble.

The 1 C mark has al­ready been passed, and sci­en­tists say that on cur­rent coun­try pledges to cut emis­sions, the world is headed for a 3 C fu­ture.

The IUCN mon­i­tors more than 200 nat­u­ral Her­itage Sites listed by the UN Ed­u­ca­tional Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion (UNESCO).

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, the big­gest on Earth – have been af­fected by "dev­as­tat­ing" bleach­ing events over the last three years, said the IUCN re­port.

Corals "bleach" when they are stressed by en­vi­ron­men­tal changes -- due to ocean warm­ing or pol­lu­tion.

The corals ex­pel the colour­ful al­gae that live in them, and turn bone white.

"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.

Harm to these nat­u­ral sites en­dan­gers lo­cal economies and liveli­hoods, the IUCN re­port said.

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