World Heritage Committee Fails to Act
20 July 2006 - The Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy, Friends of the Earth International, the Climate Justice Programme and Greenpeace have reacted angrily today after the World Heritage Committee refused to take urgent action to protect some of the world's finest sites from climate change.
Additional press items on this outcome:
Heritage body "no" to carbon cuts (BBC)
UNESCO adopts climate change strategy for World Heritage Sites (ENS)
Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy, Friends of the Earth International, the Climate Justice Programme and Greenpeace
20 July 2006
For immediate release
ANGER AS WORLD HERITAGE COMMITTEE FAILS TO ACT ON BELIZE BARRIER REEF AND OTHER SITES THREATENED BY CLIMATE CHANGE
An official survey reveals that scores of World Heritage sites are threatened by global warming
The Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy, Friends of the Earth International, the Climate Justice Programme and Greenpeace have reacted angrily today after the World Heritage Committee refused to take urgent action to protect some of the world's finest sites from climate change [ 1 ]. The failure is all the more remarkable as the World Heritage Centre has also published a survey showing the enormous threat that climate change poses to World Heritage Sites across the World.
The Committee, which is holding its annual meeting in Lithuania [ 2 ],
- rejected calls to try and prevent widely-acknowledged risks from climate change to five World Heritage sites, including The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System and Everest;
- ignored the importance of countries significantly reducing their greenhouse gas emissions;
- agreed with US demands to delete reference to the Kyoto Protocol, IPCC science and a Peruvian proposal regarding emergency measures; and
- endorsed a weak 'world heritage and climate change strategy' which focuses on the impacts but not the causes of the problem. The issue will be debated at the 2007 UNESCO General Assembly.
The five sites under severe threat from climate change were drawn to the Committee's attention by petitions from 37 organisations and individuals [ 3 ], who asked that they be placed on the World Heritage 'In Danger' list. The sites are Mount Everest/Sagarmatha National Park (glaciers), the Peruvian Andes (glaciers), Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park in the US and Canada and the Great Barrier and Belize Barrier (coral) Reefs.
Candy Gonzalez, Vice President, Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy (BELPO), said:
"History may well mark this decision as a lost opportunity to take a small step to better preserve World Heritage sites for future generations, the whole idea behind the Convention. Those who failed to act will have their names and actions remembered for all time, as the fate of these sites remain in danger."
Co-Director of the Climate Justice Programme, Peter Roderick, said:
"We are extremely angry that the World Heritage Committee has not taken any meaningful action to protect someof the most important sites on Earth from climate change. They are good at drawing up wonderfully drafted documents, but the idea of actually doing anything seems to pose a problem.
Moreover, ducking the issue of why climate change is affecting these sites will make their efforts to adapt to the impacts largely futile. The world is entitled to expect better from the Committee. Bending over backwards as a result of fear of the US and Canada will tarnish the Committee's reputation."
Friends of the Earth International's climate campaigner, Catherine Pearce said:
"The survey by the World Heritage Committee suggests that climate change is already impacting on scores of the world's most spectacular natural heritage sites. Unless the international community takes urgent action to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases the situation will get much worse."
Executive director of Pro Public (Friends of the Earth Nepal), Prakash Sharma, lead petitioner on the Sagarmatha/Everst petition, said:
"The Committee has failed in its duty. I feel sad that its members are not acting in accordance with the responsibility that has been given to them to protect the most significant parts of the world which future generations have every right to enjoy. It seems to me hypocritical. Committee members ought to be working seriously in the light of all the evidence of climate change and its impacts on World Heritage Sites. They have lost their moral right to be members of the World Heritage Committee. I hope the Committee will re-think its decision, and take serious action urgently to fulfill its responsibilities."
Greenpeace Climate Campaigner, Stephanie Tunmore, said:
"The Committee could have sent a strong and influential signal about the need to address the causes of climate change and moved forward on protecting sites. But US and Canadian climate scepticism has prevailed once again. The result is a timid and inadequate response to an urgent problem requiring radical action."
The need to act urgently to prevent glacial lakes bursting in the Himalayas and Peru, for example, was not been taken up, despite suggestions from the Peruvian delegation of the possibility of emergency plans. Petitioners' requests to act urgently to prevent glacial lakes bursting in the Himalayas and Peru were ignored, and the Committee accomodated the US and Canadian governments' well known sceptical positions on climate change.
The failure comes despite increasing evidence of the major threat that global warming poses to World Heritage Sites. A survey of 83 countries by the World Heritage Centre, just published, reveals that "125 World Heritage Sites were... threatened by Climate Change", including 19 glacier sites and 7 coral reefs worldwide.
The World Heritage Convention legally requires all countries to pass sites listed under the Convention intact to future generations. But campaigners argue that unless urgent action is taken on climate change, this will not happen. They called on the committee to:
- send a mission of qualified observers to visit five World Heritage sites to evaluate the nature and extent of the threat and to propose measures that could be taken to mitigate the threat; and
- recognize that countries that have signed up to the World Heritage Convention must significantly cut their greenhouse gas emissions as part of their duty to protect and transmit World Heritage Sites to future generations.
The petition to have Everest put on the In Danger list was also backed by Sir Edmund Hillary [ 4 ].Footnotes
[ 2 ] http://whc.unesco.org/en/185/ The 21 members of the World Heritage Committee are: Benin, Canada, Chile, Cuba, India, = Israel, Japan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lithuania (Chair), Madagascar, Mauritius, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Spain, Republic of Korea, Tunisia and the United States of America (http://whc.unesco.org/en/committeemembers/).
[ 3 ] The dangers facing the five petition sites are summarized below, with links to the petitions, and contacts:
BELIZE BARRIER REEF RESERVE SYSTEM, BELIZE (BBR):
The BBR includes seven marine protected areas that protect vital coastal ecosystems and communities and provides food and livelihoods for its inhabitants. It has bleached substantially over the last decade, especially in 1995, 1998 and 2005. Between 1997 and 1999 about half the live coral in Belize was lost due to the combination of bleaching and Hurricane Mitch, with at least one reef inside WHS's losing over 90% of their corals. There has been little recovery in the last eight years, possibly due to continued stress from warmer waters, hurricanes and growing localized impacts from the expanding tourism industry.
Petition link: http://www.climatelaw.org
Contacts: Candy Gonzalez, Vice President, Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy (BELPO), + 501 824-2476 (GMT -6h) firstname.lastname@example.org; and/or Melanie McField, Coordinator, Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative, Smithsonian Institution email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SAGARMATHA (EVEREST) NATIONAL PARK, NEPAL (SNP):
The Himalayas have warmed about 1°C since the 1970s, almost twice the global average, affecting the SNP's peaks, dominated by Sagarmatha/Mount Everest, and its hundreds of glaciers and glacial lakes. This warming has led to the retreat of 67% of Himalayan glaciers, and an official study has identified several lakes in the SNP as potentially at risk of outburst flood. Continued melt will increase summer river flows for a few decades, with expected increased frequency of floods, followed by a severe reduction in flow to major rivers such as the Ganges and Indus as the glaciers disappear. It also poses an economic threat for Nepal, where the glacial melt is critical for the agricultural industry that 80% of the population relies on.
Petition link: http://www.climatelaw.org
HUASCARAN NATIONAL PARK, PERU (HNP):
Since 1967, scientists estimate that more than 22% of the mass volume of glaciers in Cordillera Blanca, which the HNP covers, has been lost, most during the past five years. This has been accompanied by a warming tendency of 0.252°C per decade (1965-1994). The combination of high local seismic activity, climate change, increased glacier and hill-slope instability, and rapid increase in the development of high-altitude glacial lakes has created an extremely dangerous scenario for the two million people living within the immediate vicinity. In under 50 years, there could be no glaciers in the HNP and water will be scarce.
Petition link: http://www.climatelaw.org
Contact: Carlos Antonio Martin Soria Dall'Orso (Carlos Soria), Foro Ecologico del Peru, email@example.com(GMT -5h)
WATERTON-GLACIER INTERNATIONAL PEACE PARK, CANADA-USA (WATERTON):
Recent warming temperature (almost 2°C between 1910 and 1980) are causing most of this region's glaciers to retreat at an accelerating pace. Waterton is now at risk of losing its glaciers - the iconic symbol of the park. The US part of Waterton, Glacier National Park, once had over 150 glaciers, but only 27 remain. At the current rate of global warming, these glaciers are expected to all vanish by 2030. This will significantly change the aesthetics of the park and cause substantial changes in its ecosystem.
Petition link: http://www.climatelaw.org
Contacts: Erica Thorson, Clinical Professor of Law, International Environmental Law Project, Oregon, US: + 1 503 768 6715 (GMT -8h) firstname.lastname@example.org
Kassie R. Siegel, Center for Biological Diversity, California, US + 1 760 366 2232 x 302 (GMT -8h) http://www.biologicaldiversity.org
GREAT BARRIER REEF, AUSTRALIA (GBR):
Coral bleaching of the world's longest barrier reef has increased significantly as human-induced, sea surface temperatures have risen over the last two decades, especially in 1998 and 2002. Thermal stress is projected to be 3-6 times higher in 2050 than even the worst recent period of thermal stress seen on coral reefs so far. Being perhaps the best managed marine park in the world will not make the GBR immune from the impacts of climate change.
Great Barrier Reef legal report (which the Committee treated as a danger-listing petition)
Contacts: Contacts: Louise Clifton, Media Officer, Greenpeace Australia Pacific, + 61 438 04 041(GMT +11h)
Ilona Millar, Principal Solicitor, Environmental Defender's Office Ltd (NSW) email@example.com(GMT +11h).
[ 4 ] Sir Edmund Hillary, who was the first man to summit Everest, with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, is also backing the campaign to protect Everest (Sagarmatha National Park). In a statement last year he said:
"The warming of the environment of the Himalayas has increased noticeably over the last 50 years. This has caused several and severe floods from glacial lakes and much disruption to the environment and local people.
I agree the practical idea of remedial action of draining the lakes before they get to a dangerous condition is the only way to stop disasters. Therefore I support the petition to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee lodged by Pro Public and others, requesting the inclusion of Sagarmatha National Park in the list of World Heritage in Danger as a result of climate change and for protective measures and action".