Tag Archives: world heritage

Heritage sites hit by climate should be enabled to transform, study argues

Climate change is drastically impacting the world’s most treasured heritage sites, with many of them, like Venice, at risk of losing what makes them outstanding.

But restoring all of them isn’t necessarily the best thing to do, nor is it feasible according to a new study. Instead of clinging to them, researchers suggest some of these sites should be allowed to adapt and transform.

The Easter Island. Flickr Kirk K (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Over 1,000 locations have earned a spot on the UNESCO’s World Heritage list on account of their “outstanding universal value” to humanity.

At some locations, the climate threat is obvious and imminent. For example, rising sea levels and higher waves are threatening to knock down the Easter Island statues, and in Venice, the water level is becoming more and more threatening.

The traditional paradigm of preservation is linked to the idea of static preservation of the heritage sites, keeping them in the original state in which they were designated as UNESCO sites. Nevertheless, this option just isn’t viable for all sites, according to Erin Seekamp, first author of the study.

“It’s really infeasible to manage all heritage sites and property through persistent adaptation due to the extent of projected climate impacts,” Seekamp, a professor at North Carolina State University, said in a press release. “We are arguing for preservationists to shift toward transformation in some cases.”

Working with Eugene Jo from the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM), Seekamp presented two ideas on how a transformation could be done, either adaptively (in response to climate change impacts), or predictively (in advance of the projected impacts).

The researchers argued that some of the heritage sites that have been “severely impacted” by climate change-related events could remain like that and serve as a memory of the event itself. This would help communities to better understand and learn about the vulnerability brought in by a warmer world, they argued.

Meanwhile, other landmarks that are also at risk of climate change should be allowed to transform if the cost of preserving them is too high.

Ultimately, the decision on how the landmark should change has to be based on the values of the descendants of the people and the cultures that the sites aimed to preserve, they argued.

“Individuals whose heritage is at stake, and who receive benefits from those places as tourist sites, should be part of the discussions about change, and about what preserving values connected with sites should look like,” Seekamp said. “What we’re arguing is that the heritage field adopt an ecological framework of resilience to expand the current paradigm of preservation.”

The new perspective for the heritage sites is based on the concept of resilience in ecology, which argues that a landscape can absorb change from a disturbance. The researchers asked to create a new category of sites affected by climate change, called “World Heritage Sites in Climatic Transformation,” documenting sites at risk of climate change and garnering more support and resources towards them.

“We’re not saying that this should open the door for development or tourism,” Seekamp added. “We’re saying, ‘Let’s create a new categorization, and enable those places to not just think about persistent adaptation, but about transformative adaptation.’ It allows us to think about alternatives.”

The study was published in the journal Climatic Change.

Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the vulnerable nature World Heritages sites listed by the IUCN since its glaciers are shrinking in the face of global warming. Credit: Pixabay.

Natural World Heritage sites threatened by climate change doubled in the past 3 years

A report released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that the number of natural World Heritage sites at risk from climate change has nearly doubled in only three years. Researchers now estimate there are 62 vulnerable sites or one in seven listed sites, compared to 35 sites in 2014.

 Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the vulnerable nature World Heritages sites listed by the IUCN since its glaciers are shrinking in the face of global warming. Credit: Pixabay.

Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the vulnerable nature World Heritages sites listed by the IUCN since its glaciers are shrinking in the face of global warming. Credit: Pixabay.

Natural World Heritage sites include some of the most breathtaking places on the planet like coral reefs, glaciers, and wetlands. Among them are the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean, the central Amazon, the Everglades in the United States, and Australia’ Great Barrier Reef.

“Climate change acts fast and is not sparing the finest treasures of our planet,” said IUCN director general Inger Andersen in a public statement.

Particularly vulnerable to global warming are coral reefs, which are subjected to bleaching, and glaciers. In the last three years, three World Heritage-listed corals — Aldabra Atoll in the Indian Ocean, the Belize Barrier Reef in the Atlantic, and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef — have all experienced significant bleaching events.

The Great Barrier Reef is threatened by coral bleaching. Credit: Pixabay.

The Great Barrier Reef is threatened by coral bleaching. Credit: Pixabay.

According to the report, 29 percent of World Heritage sites faced ‘significant’ climate change threats and seven percent had a ‘critical’ outlook.

There are also some success stories shared in the IUCN report, such as Ivory Coast’s Comoé national park where elephant and chimpanzee populations have recovered significantly. However, such examples are heavily outnumbered by the alarmingly high number of vulnerable nature sites.

“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.

The disturbing IUCN report was released today at Bonn, Germany, where many scientists, experts, policymakers, and world leaders have gathered to figure out the action plan for the ‘climate-saving’ pact etched in 2015 by nearly 200 countries in Paris. The so-called Paris Agreement aims to limit greenhouse gases so average temperatures won’t jump more than 2 degrees Celsius past those recorded at the beginning of the industrial revolution, ideally no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Since the industrial revolution, the globe has warmed by almost one degree Celsius. What’s more worrying for our world’s natural treasures is that the pledges submitted by countries so far put us on course for a 3 degree Celsius warming.