Report Warns World Heritage Sites at Risk From Climate Change

Report Warns World Heritage Sites at Risk From Climate Change

Climate change is becoming a significant risk for World Heritage sites, a report from UNESCO, the United Nations Environment Program, and the Union of Concerned Scientists finds.

Based on case studies of thirty-one heritage sites in twenty-nine countries — including Venice, Stonehenge, and the Galapagos Islands — the report, World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate (108 pages, PDF), found that many sites are vulnerable to rising temperatures, melting glaciers, worsening droughts, and more intense weather events. The potential impacts from climate change include the degradation of many sites’ "outstanding universal value" and overall integrity, as well as a decline in economic activity for local communities that depend on tourism.

To address the threat, the report calls on multilateral organizations and states that are party to the World Heritage Convention to strengthen the assessment and monitoring of sites; on governments and the tourism industry to create climate change action strategies; and on site management authorities to incorporate the latest climate science into adaptation strategies with the full involvement of indigenous peoples and the local communities.

"Climate change is affecting World Heritage sites across the globe," said Adam Markham, lead author of the report and deputy director of the Climate and Energy Program at UCS. "Some Easter Island statues are at risk of being lost to the sea because of coastal erosion. Many of the world’s most important coral reefs, including in the islands of New Caledonia in the western Pacific, have suffered unprecedented coral bleaching linked to climate change this year. Climate change could eventually even cause some World Heritage sites to lose their status."