Predicting and managing the effects of Climate Change
on World Heritage
A joint report from
the World Heritage Centre, its Advisory Bodies, and a broad group of experts
to the 30th session of the World Heritage Committee (Vilnius, 2006)1
I. Introduction Error: Reference source not found
II. Overview of Climate Change Error: Reference source not found
A. Human induced perturbation of the climate system Error: Reference source not found
B. Change in climate patterns and perturbations of the geophysical equilibrium Error: Reference source not found
C. Projected Climate Change Error: Reference source not found
III. Impacts of Climate Change on Natural and Cultural World Heritage Error: Reference source not found
A. Impacts of Climate Change on Natural World Heritage Error: Reference source not found
B. Impacts of Climate Change on Cultural World Heritage Error: Reference source not found
C. Survey on the impacts of Climate Change on World Heritage properties worldwide Error: Reference source not found
IV. Implications for the World Heritage Convention Error: Reference source not found
A. Introduction Error: Reference source not found
B. Ongoing Climate Change threats on World Heritage Error: Reference source not found
C. Implications in the context of the World Heritage Convention Error: Reference source not found
D. Implementing appropriate management strategies Error: Reference source not found
E. The possible implications for the Operational Guidelines Error: Reference source not found
V. What can be done with respect to Climate Change and World Heritage? Error: Reference source not found
A. International conventions Error: Reference source not found
B. Designing management plans accounting for the issue of Climate Change Error: Reference source not found
C. Level of actions (site level, local, landscape, State Party, regional or thematic, global) and networking Error: Reference source not found
D. Research Error: Reference source not found
E. Information management, communication, and building public and political support Error: Reference source not found
F. Vulnerability assessment Error: Reference source not found
G. Monitoring Error: Reference source not found
H. Adaptation Error: Reference source not found
I. Mitigation Error: Reference source not found
J. Monitoring and adaptative management Error: Reference source not found
K. Risk Preparedness Error: Reference source not found
L. The process to define a coherent Climate Change strategy for Cultural and Natural Heritage Error: Reference source not found
1.In the past few decades scientists have assembled a growing body of evidence showing the extent of change of the earth’s climate and that human activities play an important role in this change. This warning has led international, regional, and national organisations to develop dedicated programmes to assess and manage the impacts of Climate Change (e.g. the assessment recently conducted by the Convention on Biological Diversity2). In this context, and following Decision 29 COM 7B.a of the World Heritage Committee, the present Report which has been prepared following the meeting of the Group of Experts in March 2006, aims at reviewing the potential impacts of Climate Change on World Heritage properties and suggesting appropriate measures to deal with them.
The unprecedented rate of increase of global temperatures that has been recorded during the 20th century is the highest in the last millennium. And, according to the IPCC, most of this increase is attributable to human activities. The increase of global average atmospheric surface temperature is related to the greenhouse effect as a consequence of enhanced emissions of greenhouse gases. Increased global temperature is just one of the consequences of the impacts of human activities on the climatic equilibrium of the planet, with modifications of precipitation patterns, droughts, storminess, ocean temperature and acidification, sea level rise, etc. Projections of numerical models show that this trend is very likely to be confirmed in the future. Such changes are impacting on World Heritage properties, and if the trend is confirmed, these impacts will become even more threatening in the near future.
In this scenario, the conservation of World Heritage natural sites may be jeopardized. Increased ocean temperature and acidification poses a threat to marine biodiversity. Many marine World Heritage sites are tropical coral reefs whose exposure to bleaching events is increasing, possibly leading to massive extinction of coral reefs. The increase of atmospheric temperature is also leading to the melting of glaciers worldwide (in both mountainous and Polar Regions). Lastly, terrestrial biodiversity may also be affected with species shifting ranges, changes in the timing of biological cycles, modification of the frequency and intensity of wildfires, migration of pests and invasive species, etc.
World Heritage cultural sites are also exposed to this threat. Ancient buildings were designed for a specific local climate. The migration of pests can also have an adverse impact on the conservation of built heritage. Increasing sea level threatens many coastal sites. And the conditions for conservation of archaeological evidence may be degraded in the context of increasing soil temperature. But aside from these physical threats, Climate Change will impact on social and cultural aspects, with communities changing the way they live, work, worship and socialise in buildings sites and landscapes, possibly migrating and abandoning their built heritage.
The fact that Climate Change poses a threat to the outstanding universal values (OUV) of some World Heritage sites has several implications for the World Heritage Convention. In this context, the relevance of the processes of the Convention such as nominations, periodic reporting, and reactive monitoring must be reviewed and suitably adjusted. It is also time to design appropriate measures for monitoring the impacts of Climate Change and adapting to the adverse consequences. In the worst case scenario, the OUV of a given site could be irreversibly affected (although it is recognised that Climate Change is one among a range of factors affecting the site), and the World Heritage Committee needs to consider the implications that this would have under the Convention.
Several actions can be contemplated in the short term to prevent the impacts of Climate Change on World Heritage properties, define appropriate adaptation measures, and enhance the sharing of knowledge among stakeholders. Such initiatives should be conducted in close collaboration with relevant bodies already involved in Climate Change and/or heritage and conservation issues, such as the UNFCCC, the IPCC, the CBD, the UNESCO MAB programme, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, UNESCO conventions dealing with Cultural Heritage, etc.
The management plans of all sites potentially threatened by Climate Change should be updated to ensure sustainable conservation of their OUV in this context. The impacts of Climate Change on World Heritage properties must be assessed through appropriate monitoring and vulnerability assessment processes. Potential mitigation measures at the level of the sites and within the World Heritage network should also be investigated, although mitigation at the global and States Parties level is the mandate of the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol. The importance of Climate Change threats also justifies the need to implement appropriately tailored risk preparedness measures. As far as remedial measures are concerned, lessons learnt at several sites worldwide show the relevance of designing and implementing appropriate adaptations measures. The effectiveness of several actions has been demonstrated at a number of sites in the past, such as: increasing the resilience of a site by reducing non-climatic sources of stress, re-designing boundaries and buffer zones to facilitate migration of species, preventively draining a glacial lake to avoid the occurrence of an outburst flood, improving dykes to prevent coastal flooding, supporting traditional methods to protect a site from sand encroachment, etc.
Concerning the sharing of knowledge, research at all levels should be promoted in collaboration with the IPCC and other bodies involved in Climate Change research, especially for cultural heritage where the level of involvement of the scientific community is currently not as much as it is for natural heritage. The global network of the World Heritage sites is also an opportunity to build public and political support through improved information dissemination and effective communication.