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World Heritage Sites and Climate Change

The Union of Concerned Scientists is calling on the World Heritage Convention to take more account of climate change in its selection and protection of World Heritage sites. It is particularly concerned about Venice and the Great Barrier Reef. It says that Australia is resisting putting the Great Barrier Reef on the Convention’s Danger List. The article says:

The debate over whether climate change should ever be a criteria for In Danger listing has also been a point of contention in the development of a much-needed climate policy for the World Heritage Convention. After several years of discussions, the Committee forwarded the draft new climate policy

EditSign to the UNESCO General Assembly in 2021, but it was sent it back to an ad hoc committee to try to resolve several remaining sticking points, including whether the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) as defined in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) should be included or not. Australia, Japan, Norway, and the US have all opposed CBDR as an approach to World Heritage.

 Only a few countries have provided useful information as to how climate change may affect the places in question. 

UCS (Union of Concerned Scientists) has been actively advocating for the new climate policy over several years. If agreed on, it would have major implications for the way the World Heritage Convention is implemented. For example, it asks member countries to develop and share mechanisms and methodologies for assessing the climate vulnerability of their World Heritage sites. 

It’s high time that the World Heritage Committee and the rest of the signatories to the Convention center climate change in their deliberations and do more to protect these extraordinary, irreplaceable locations from loss and damage. Placing Venice and the Great Barrier Reef on the list of endangered sites, finalizing the climate policy, and providing dedicated financial resources to the World Heritage Center to fully and effectively implement it, would signal a serious intention to do so. 

When I was the State Department’s representative to the World Heritage Convention in the 1990s, climate change was not an issue per se, although one meeting did criticize France for his preservation of Mont-Saint-Michel because of rising water levels.

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