UNESCO investigates protection of World Heritage Sites from global warming.
The US Government is strongly opposing efforts by the United Nations to protect some of the most vulnerable World Heritage Sites from the impacts of climate change. The position of the USA, which was recently elected to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee , has been severely criticized by campaigners.Co
Friends of the Earth International
16 March 2006
Tomorrow UNESCO is holding an urgent Expert Meeting in Paris to assess the scale of the threat that climate change poses to World Heritage properties, and propose what action should be taken to protect them . But the US Administration has warned  that attempts by the World Heritage Committee to address the issue of global climate change will run the “risk of losing the unified spirit and camaraderie that has become synonymous with World Heritage.”
The Expert Meeting was convened following fears that climate change is already having a major impact on a number of key sites including the melting of glaciers in Waterton-International Peace Park (in the US and Canada), on Mount Everest and the Peruvian Andes, and damage to coral reefs on the Belize and Great Barrier Reefs (in Australia).
The decision to hold the investigation was agreed at a UNESCO meeting in Durban, South Africa last year following petitioning by campaigners and lawyers about the damage that climate change is already causing to a number of sites across the world. The petitioners are calling on UNESCO to take remedial action to protect the World Heritage Sites and to take international action to cut carbon dioxide emissions to protect the sites for future generations. The report by the expert working group will be discussed by the World Heritage Committee in July.
However, the US Administration – which became a Member of the World Heritage Committee after the Durban decision – has made it clear in a position paper that it opposes moves by the Committee to address the issue of climate change.
The US Administration’s position paper raises a number of objections, including:
Continuing to cast doubt on the science of climate change: “There is not unanimity regarding the impacts, causes, and how to or if man can affect the changes we are observing.”
Insisting that the five sites put forward by petitioners for inclusion on the World Heritage ‘In Danger List’ must have the support of the State concerned – even though there are no regulations specifying this. “It continues to be the position of the USA that inclusion of any World Heritage Site on the List of World Heritage in Danger, even though not specifically articulated in Article 11.4 of the Convention, also requires consent of the State concerned.”
Threatening the “camaraderie” of World Heritage. “There is no compelling argument for the Committee to address the issue of global climate change — especially at the risk of losing the unified spirit and camaraderie that has become synonymous with World Heritage.”
Commenting on the US position paper, Chris Wold, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the International Environmental Law Project at the Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon – lead petitioners on the Waterton petition – said:
“The US is wrong on the science, and it’s wrong on the law.”
Climate Justice Programme co-Director, Peter Roderick, who is supporting the petitions said:
“Opposing the international consensus on climate change is standard practice from the current US government. But I am surprised that they are trying to undermine the previous Committee’s decision quite so soon after becoming a member. The Committee has already recognized the dangers that climate change poses to the best parts of the planet, and it is entirely appropriate for it to investigate the threat and draw up an urgent plan of action.”
Friends of the Earth International’s climate coordinator, Catherine Pearce, said:
“Once again the US Government is acting disgracefully on climate change. It continues to cast doubt on the science of climate change, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and threatens to block any action to tackle it. It’s time the Bush Administration joined the rest of the civilized world in facing up to the terrible reality of climate change and took urgent steps to reduce the huge impact that its activities are having on our climate.”
Commenting on his hopes for the meeting, Prakash Sharma, Director of Pro Public (Friends of the Earth Nepal), lead petitioners on the Everest petition, said:
“This meeting is very important for the people of Nepal, as well as for all the people of the world. We are watching UNESCO to see how it fulfills its responsibility to transmit World Heritage Sites under threat from climate change to future generations. The magnificent beauty of Everest is a gift of nature needing protection. I strongly believe that the Expert Group will recommend all the necessary steps required to reduce the threat of glacier lake outburst floods and to protect the livelihoods of the Sherpa people.”
Candy Gonzalez of the Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy, who has petitioned on the Belize Barrier Reef added:
“Due to the effects of climate change, the Belize Barrier Reef can be compared to an eggshell. It is fragile and needs special care. Losing the wonder and beauty of the Reef for future generations because of short-term gain and greed would be too painful to bear, and we must do all we can to prevent it.”
 The US was elected as one of the 21 State Members of the World Heritage Committee in October 2005: http://whc.unesco.org/en/committeemembers/
General media inquiries:
Peter Roderick, Climate Justice Programme, UK
+ 44 (0)20 7388 3141 (GMT)/ 07796 340 893 (m)
Catherine Pearce, Friends of the Earth International
+44 (0) 207 566 1649/ +44 (0)7810 558 246 (GMT)
Neil Verlander, Friends of the Earth Press Office (London):
+44 (0) 20 7566 1649 / + 44 (0) 7712 843 209 (m)