Climate change is destroying Earth's natural wonders, UN report warns

"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," said IUCN Director General Inger Andersen.
By Brooks Hays  |  Nov. 13, 2017 at 3:53 PM
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Nov. 13 (UPI) -- In just the last three years, the number of World Heritage sites threatened by climate change has nearly doubled from 35 to 62, according to the latest report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Sites are granted the World Heritage designation by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization for both cultural and natural significance. There are 206 natural World Heritage sites. Examples include Florida's Everglades, Australia's Great Barrier Reef and Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro.

According to the latest IUCN report, a growing percentage of theses sites are threatened by global warming and its consequences -- including sea level rise, greater flooding, larger coastal storms, more frequent wildfires and prolonged drought.

IUCN issued the report as delegates gather in Bonn, Germany, at the latest UN Climate Change Conference.

"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," Inger Andersen, IUCN director general, said in a news release. "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."

The reports highlights the growth threat of warmer more acidic seas, which scientists blame for coral bleaching events. Corals bleaching threatens several World Heritage sites, including the the Great Barrier Reef, as well as the Aldabra Atoll in the Indian Ocean and the Belize Barrier Reef in the Atlantic.

Warming temperatures threaten glaciers atop Mount Kilimanjaro and the Alps, while rising seas threaten the unique species of the Galapagos Islands, another World Heritage site.

"Natural World Heritage sites play a crucial role supporting local economies and livelihoods," said Tim Badman, director of IUCN's World Heritage program. "Their destruction can thus have devastating consequences that go beyond their exceptional beauty and natural value. In Peru's Huascarán National Park, for example, melting glaciers affect water supplies and contaminate water and soil due to the release of heavy metals previously trapped under ice."

The latest report also warned global warming can facilitate and worsen other threats to protected sites, like the spread of harmful invasive species and the threat of unsustainable tourism. And as climate change-related threats intensify, many sites are suffering from subpar management as a result of insufficient funding.

"If we cannot secure the highest quality protection for the world's most precious natural areas, what will this say about our ability to fulfill our collective commitments towards the planet, including the Paris agreement?" Anderson said.

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