Climate change hits world’s wonders

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Changing environment strikes reefs, glaciers and other sites

The number of natural world heritage sites threatened by climate change has grown from 35 to 62 in just three years, the United Nations reports from its environment conference taking place in Bonn.

Climate change is the fastest growing threat the sites face, according to a report released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) called the IUCN World Heritage Outlook 2, an update of a 2014 report.

The study assesses, for the first time, changes in the conservation prospects of all 241 natural World Heritage sites, examining the sites’ threats, protection and management and the changing state of their natural values.

Climate change impacts, such as coral bleaching and glacier loss, affect a quarter of all sites – compared to one in seven sites in 2014. Coral reefs and glaciers are now among the world’s most threatened ecosystems.

Other ecosystems, such as wetlands, low-lying deltas, permafrost and fire sensitive ecosystems are also affected. The report warns that the number of natural World Heritage sites affected by climate change is likely to grow further.

“Protection of World Heritage sites is an international responsibility of the same governments that have signed up to the Paris Agreement,” says Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General.

“This IUCN report sends a clear message to the delegates gathered here in Bonn: climate change acts fast and is not sparing the finest treasures of our planet. The scale and the pace at which it is damaging our natural heritage underline the need for urgent and ambitious national commitments and actions to implement the Paris Agreement.”

85% of Great Barrier Reef affected
World Heritage-listed coral reefs, such as the Aldabra Atoll in the Indian Ocean – the world’s second-largest coral atoll, the Belize Barrier Reef in the Atlantic – the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere, and the Great Barrier Reef – the biggest reef on Earth, have been affected by devastating mass coral bleaching events over the last three years, due to rising sea temperatures.

The Great Barrier Reef has suffered widespread bleaching, with up to 85% of surveyed reefs impacted in 2016.

Retreating glaciers, also resulting from rising temperatures, threaten sites such as Kilimanjaro National Park – which boasts Africa’s highest peak – and the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch, home to the largest Alpine glacier.

The report is available online and the next edition is planned for 2020.

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