Daily Current Affairs – 25th July, 2016DEVENDRA VISHWAKARMA
The death of World Heritage Sites
What are World Heritage sites?
- A natural or man-made site, area, or structure recognized as being of outstanding international importance due to its cultural or physical significance and therefore deserving a special protection.
- There are 1,031 World Heritage sites around the world, representing sites of “outstanding universal value” because of their importance in capturing human cultural traditions, creative genius, history or exceptional natural phenomena.
- World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.
- The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.
- This is embodied in an international treaty called the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO in 1972.
Climate change and World Heritage sites
Marine and coastal sites are facing particular challenges due to sea level rise, ocean acidification, and increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events.
Latest victim: Great Barrier Reef’s corals- Australia
- It is one of the world’s richest and most complex ecosystems.
- In 2015, almost one-quarter of the coral has died. It is the worst mass coral bleaching in recorded history.
Threatening: Even in the far northern reaches of the Reef which is away from human pressures like coastal development, a staggering 50% of the coral has died.
Reason: Above-average sea temperatures.
Further impact? As the ocean continues to absorb more heat from the atmosphere, large-scale coral bleaching is likely to become even more frequent and devastating throughout the global waters.
World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate report
Report by: UNEP, UNESCO and Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)
It notes: Some 31 natural and cultural World Heritage sites in 29 countries across the world are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change
Documents: Climate impacts including increasing temperatures, melting glaciers, rising seas, intensifying weather events, worsening droughts and longer wildfire seasons.
Examples: Venice, Stonehenge, the Galapagos Islands, South Africa’s Cape Floral Kingdom, the port city of Cartagena-Colombia and Shiretoko National Park in Japan
- Identifying the World Heritage sites that are most vulnerable to climate change and implement policies and provide resources to increase resilience at those sites
- Ensuring that the threat of climate impacts is taken into account in the nomination and listing process for new World Heritage sites
- Engaging the tourism sector in efforts to manage and protect vulnerable sites in the face of climate change and educate visitors about climate threats
- Increasing global efforts to meet the Paris Agreement climate change pledges in order to preserve World Heritage sites for future generations
Effect on tourism:
- Climate change could eventually even cause some World Heritage Sites to lose their status.
- The effects could be a blow to the tourism industry and economies of some of the countries where the World Heritage sites are found, noting that many developing countries are quite reliant on tourism revenue.
The report gave a miss to the iconic Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Sundarbans in India and Bangladesh.
Fossil fuels are the culprit
Existence: The World Heritage Site’s future depends on immediate reduction of climate-change-inducing greenhouse-gas emissions.
Government’s inaction and insensitivity: The responsible governments are failing to protect sites within their boundaries, from climate change. They are continuing to pursue polluting energy projects like coal mines and coal-fired power plants.
- Inspite of such devastating effect on its corals, it continues to increase its exploitation of dirty fossil fuels.
- In 2015, the Australian government has approved both the massive Carmichael coalmine and the Abbot Point terminal, located near the Reef, to facilitate the global export of output from the Carmichael mine.
- It is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. Even then, the government supports a proposal to build two huge coal-fired power plants adjacent to the Sundarbans World Heritage site. India is in support of it.
- They will emit large quantities of greenhouse gases, devastate the Sundarbans, where the Ganga and other rivers meet the Bay of Bengal in a spectacular delta of mangrove islands that is home to endangered Bengal tigers and river dolphins.
- The power plants will pollute the waters with toxic coal ash, bring constant coal-barge traffic, and require the dredging of riverbeds.
- Mercury from the smokestacks will accumulate in the marine life, permanently contaminating the food supply of hundreds of thousands of people and vulnerable wildlife.
- And therefore, it needs to use renewable energy. It is already a world leader in solar energy and has significant potential of other resources like hydro energy.
World Heritage Sites as part of climate change solution