From the city of Venice to the Statue of Liberty, dozens of natural and cultural World Heritage sites in 29 countries are under direct threat from climate change, warns a shocking new report from UNESCO, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate analyzes peer-reviewed scientific literature, testimony by local experts, and other reports to determine which sites around the world were most vulnerable to rising waters and extreme weather.
While the Statue of Liberty appears to be “solid,” it is in fact “at considerable risk from some of the impacts of climate change” like storm surges and sea level rise, the report found.
On the other side of the Atlantic, increasing rainfall and flash floods threaten to damage Stonehenge, the world’s most famous Stone Age monument. And Venice is “now under assault from rapidly growing tourist numbers as well as worsening climate-driven water damage to the very buildings and architectural and monumental heritage that draws visitors in the first place,” the report continues.
Meanwhile, extreme weather events like El Niño threaten to have “devastating impacts” on species in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador as food supplies are disrupted.
And in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, warmer temperatures and human-caused deforestation are likely to reduce gorilla habitats, while climate change and the expansion of tourism will increase risk of disease passing from humans to gorillas.
The report follows the recent signing of the historic COP21 climate agreement in Paris.
“Globally, we need to understand, monitor, and address climate change threats to World Heritage sites better,” said Mechtild Rössler, director of UNESCO’s World Heritage center. “As the report’s findings underscore, achieving the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature rise to a level well below 2 degrees Celsius is vitally important to protecting our World Heritage for current and future generations.”
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