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You are here: Home / Media / Archive / 2004 / 1117

1117

press release
wednesday 17th november

legal moves to protect natural world heritage sites from climate change

Footage and Photographs available - see below

paris(france), 17th november 2004 - The impact of climate change on some of the world's unique and irreplaceable areas will be highlighted tomorrow November 18 as petitions from three developing countries are handed in to the World Heritage Committee in Paris.

The petitions ask the Committee urgently to place the Belize Barrier Reef, the Huascáran National Park (Peru) and the Sagarmatha National Park (Nepal) World Heritage Sites on the List of World Heritage in Danger as a result of climate change.

Danger-listing is a legal mechanism under the UNESCO World Heritage Convention requiring an increased level of protection where the best parts of the planet are facing serious and specific dangers. State Parties to the Convention have a legal obligation to transmit World Heritage Sites to future generations. [1]

IN BELIZE The Belize Barrier Reef, described by Charles Darwin in 1842 as “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies”, has already been damaged by higher temperatures, and will be damaged further. The petitioner is the Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy. [2]

IN PERU The Huascáran National Park is located in the Cordillera Blanca in the Peruvian Andes, the world's highest tropical mountain range, with Mount Huascáran rising to 6,768 m. More than 20% of the glacial coverage has been lost in the Peruvian Andes since 1968, and melting glaciers form lakes which could burst if action is not taken. The lead petitioner is Foro Ecologico del Peru. [3]

IN NEPAL The Sagarmatha National Park is dominated by Mount Everest/Sagarmatha, the highest peak in the world (8,848 m). Himalayan glaciers have been in retreat for decades and a resulting hazard is the formation of many glacial lakes at risk from outburst flood. One study has identified 13 of these lakes in the Park. The lead petitioner is Forum for the Protection of Public Interest (Pro Public) / Friends of the Earth Nepal. Co-petitioners include record-holding Everest climbers Pemba Dorjee Sherpa and Temba Tsheri Sherpa, as well as Reinhold Messner, Sir David Attenborough and Sir Chris Bonington. [4]

As well as calling for remedial measures within each of the World Heritage Sites, these petitions from developing countries also point to the need and legal duty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to transmit World Heritage Sites to future generations. [5]

Candy Gonzalez on behalf of the Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy said:
“The Belize Barrier Reef is a magnificent feast of sight and color. Unfortunately, it is under enormous stress from the changing climate, hurricanes, degradation, uncontrolled development, disease and other degradation. Now, with climate change upon us, is more important than ever to focus our attention on protecting this precious and unique area for future generations.”

Carlos Soria, Legal Adviser, Foro Ecológico del Perú, said: “We hold a responsibility to the World. This is a call for immediate attention to the planet's climate. The melting of the ice glaciers is a loss for humankind. But even worse is the crude reality of the devastating effects at the local level. We demand support for the necessary investment in education, monitoring and prevention measures. We expect the the World Heritage Committee to take the specific recommendations of our petition and implement them.”

Prakash Sharma, Director of Pro Public / Friends of the Earth Nepal said: “Mount Everest is a powerful symbol of the natural world, not just in Nepal. If this mountain is threatened by climate change, then we know the situation is deadly serious. If we fail to act, we are failing future generations and denying them the chance to enjoy the beauty of mother earth.”

Co-petitioner Temba Tsheri Sherpa, who in 2001 aged 16 was the youngest to climb Sagarmatha/Everest said:
“Everest is the pride of the nation, but more than this, it is a gift to the world. Lake Tsho Rolpa has formed near the area where I come from. Local people live in fear that the lake will burst.”

Co-petitioner Pemba Dorjee Sherpa, the fastest ever climber of Everest, who has climbed the mountain four times said:
“Last year when Edmund Hillary came to Everest, he told me that so much snow had melted in the fifty years since he first climbed Everest. In 1953 snow and ice had reached all the way to base camp, but now it ends five miles above. Everest is losing its natural beauty. If this continues, then tourists won't come any more. Our communities rely on tourism. It's my livelihood, as a tour guide and climber, and if we lose this, there will be nothing for our children.”

Commenting on the three petitions, Peter Roderick, Director of the Climate Justice Programme [6] said:
“Glaciers and coral reefs are the canaries in the coal mine. The World Heritage Committee must urgently investigate these sites and ensure that everything necessary is done to maintain their world heritage status, to keep people safe and to pass them on intact to future generations. Legal duties require this action, including the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and these duties must be respected both within the UNESCO and Kyoto processes.”

for more information contact :
ABOUT BELIZE: Candy Gonzalez, tel: + 501 824-2476; E-mail: ;
Scientific contact: Melanie McField, WWF, tel: + 501 223-7680; E-mail:

ABOUT PERU: Carlos Soria, cell: 00 511 9887 8149, message phone: 00 511 461 2830; E-mail: and (please use both)

ABOUT NEPAL: Prakash Sharma (Director of Pro Public, Friends of the Earth Nepal), mobile (till 19 November):+ 44 (0)7810 558 250.
On Himalayan temperatures: Dr Mark New, Oxford University; office: + 44 (0) 1865 271917; mobile: + 44 (0) 7966 647 953.
On glacial lakes: Dr John Reynolds and Dr Shaun Richardson (RGSL), tel + 44 (0) 1352 756196. Dr John Gerrard, University of Birmingham tel: + 44 (0)121 427 3779.
On mountaineer's perspective: Stephen Venables, tel.: + 44 (0) 1225 442 892; mobile: + 44 (0) 781 012 4631

ABOUT CLIMATE LAW and the Climate Justice Programme: Peter Roderick, mobile: (till 19 November): + 44 (0) 07764 364 187; office, + 44 (0) 7388 3141

footage and photographs

BELIZE Barrier Reef: Photographs are available from Candy Gonzalez tel: + 501 824-2476; E-mail: belpobz@starband.net PERU / Huascaran: Digital DVD aerial footage, and photographs, are available from RGSL. tel + 44 (0) 1352 756196.

NEPAL/SAGARMATHA: Video News Release is available from Friends of the Earth in London (+ 44 (0) 7566 1649). Photographs are available from RGSL. tel + 44 (0) 1352 756196. Selected photos can be download here

notes to the editors

[1] The 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention is the international legal instrument protecting the most outstanding, priceless and irreplaceable parts of the planet. It was adopted over 30 years ago because these sites were, even then, “increasingly threatened with destruction”. The Convention sets out the principles of how natural or cultural properties can be added to the World Heritage List by the World Heritage Committee and places duties on Parties to protect and preserve them for future generations. The text of the Convention is here: whc.unesco.org/pg.cfm?cid=182 The Convention also requires the World Heritage Committee to establish, keep up to date and publish a List of World Heritage in Danger. World Heritage Sites threatened by serious and specific dangers, and the conservation of which need major operations, must be considered for adding to the danger list when assistance is requested under the Convention. Including by individuals and NGOs. whc.unesco.org/pg.cfm?cid=167 In considering whether to danger list a World Heritage Site, the Committee follows the paragraphs 80-93 of the Operational Guidelines for Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, available here: whc.unesco.org/pg.cfm?cid=267#para80 A programme of corrective measures must be adopted if the site is put on the danger list. Currently, 35 of the 788 World Heritage Sites are on the danger list: whc.unesco.org/pg.cfm?cid=86 The World Heritage Committee is reponsible for decision-making on matters related to iplementation of the World Heritage Convention. It meets once a year, in June. The petitioners wish to ask the Committee to consider their danger listing petitions at their next meeting in June 2005. The Committee consists of representatives from 21 States Parties, elected by the General Assembly of the States Parties to the World Heritage Convention. The current World Heritage Committee is made up as follows: Argentina, Benin, Chile, China, Colombia, Egypt, India, Japan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Portugal, Russian Federation, Saint Lucia, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

[2] The Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy is a non-governmental Organization incorporated under the Laws of Belize in 1995. It was founded by a group of concerned individuals that included professionals in the fields of Natural Resource Management, Law and Community Education. The Belize Barrier Reef petition is available here: www.climatelaw.org .

[3] Foro Ecológico del Perú is a non-governmental organization incorporated to promote sustainable development and enforcement of environmental laws. It is joined as a co-petitioner by Foro Ciudades Para La Vida, a national network of NGOs oriented created in 1996. . The Huascáran National Park petition is available here: www.climatelaw.org .

[4] Pro Public/ Friends of the Earth Nepal ( www.propublic.org ) is an independent, non-profit civil society organization committed to the cause of public interests and rights for the citizens of Nepal. It was founded in 1991 by a group of environmentalists, women's rights activists, lawyers, journalists, engineers and economists. The Sagarmatha National Park petition is available here: www.climatelaw.org . A co-petitioner is International Public Interest Defenders, a Geneva-based organization dedicated to promoting the public interest in the areas of environmental conservation and human health by using international legal instruments and institutions for beneficial change: www.i-pid.org

[5] A report published by leading international lawyers in September 2004 concluded that legal obligations on countries under the World Heritage Convention require cuts to be made in greenhouse gas emissions. The report was prepared by the Sydney Centre for International and Global Law and was commissioned by Greenpeace Australia Pacific and Climate Action Network Australia (CANA) through their legal representatives, the Environmental Defender's Office (NSW) Ltd. A copy of the report is available here: www.law.usyd.edu.au/scigl/SCIGLFinalReport21_09_04.pdf A copy of the lawyers' media summary is available here: www.law.usyd.edu.au/scigl/SCIGL_MediaSummary_FINAL.pdf [6] The Climate Justice Programme ( www.climatelaw.org ) is an initiative hosted by Friends of the Earth International. It aims to encourage and support the enforcement of the law internationally to combat climate change in the run up to the start in 2005 of negotiations for further cuts in greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. Over 70 organisations and lawyers are signatories to its Statement of Support, including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, WWF and organizations based in developing countries.

 

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