Climate change threatening 1 in 6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

9 Jul 2015

Climate change is putting many sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage list at risk, with 35 of the 228 credited for their natural values now threatened, according to a report.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee met in Bonn at the end of last month to discuss the ways to combat what is threatening one-sixth of all listed sites, with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) calling for more to be done.

In “what may well be our last window of opportunity”, Inger Anderson – IUCN’s director-general – claimed that few people are aware of the full scale of the damage being done as a result of climate change, as well as dam building.

“We need to take action to address this threat on the ground and at the global level,” he said. “An ambitious agreement reached by governments meeting at the UN climate talks later this year in Paris can help safeguard our precious World Heritage.”

At the Bonn meeting last month the committee ruled against listing the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger”, giving Australia five years to halt the deterioration of the natural icon.

The committee praised Australia’s efforts but said it was still concerned about the threat of climate change, industrial port development and water pollution to the reef.

At the Bonn meeting, the committee also added 24 new sites to the World Heritage list, including the Champagne region in France and Iran’s stunning Susa property.

However, it’s the areas at risk that should concern people most, some of which are included below – you can click on the images to view them in a larger format.

Lake Baikal, Russia

Lake Baikal Russia

Situated in south-east Siberia, Lake Baikal is the oldest (25m years) and deepest (1,700m) lake in the world. It contains 20pc of the world’s total unfrozen freshwater reserve. The Baikal region has some 1,200 historical, archaeological and cultural monuments, of which 1,000 have state protection.

IUCN claims Lake Baikal may suffer negative impacts from three projects planned in Mongolia, including the construction of two hydropower plants and a reservoir.

Lake Turkana, Kenya

Lake Turkana Kenya

Turkana is the most saline of Africa’s large lakes, with UNESCO packing three national parks together for this site. They each act as a stopover for migrant waterfowl and are major breeding grounds for the Nile crocodile, hippopotamus and a variety of venomous snakes.

It’s actually a crocodile lake situated in the Turkana pictured above, with IUCN concerned that the Gibe III dam in Ethiopia may permanently change the seasonal water flows into the National Parks.

Chapada dos Veadeiros and Emas National Parks, BrazilChapada dos Veadeiros and Emas National Parks

These two sites in Brazil contain flora and fauna that make up one of the world’s oldest and most diverse tropical ecosystems. For centuries these sites have served as refuge for several species during periods of climate change – ironically – “and will be vital for maintaining the biodiversity of the Cerrado region during future climate fluctuations”, according to UNESCO.

IUCN claims “inadequate regulation” is among the concerns for this region.

Main image of Great Barrier Reef, Lake Baikal and the crocodile lake in Lake Turkana via Shutterstock, Chapada dos Veaderos waterfall image via LíviaBuhring/CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikimedia Commons.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic