Iconic tourist sites around the world at risk of being destroyed by climate change

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These are places we take for granted, iconic and amazing symbols of freedom, history, progress or the magnificence of nature.

Generations of tourists have visited and marveled at their beauty, grandeur or accomplishment.

But unless action is taken quickly, countless World Heritage sites, including famous places like the Statue of Liberty, Stonehenge and the Moai statues of Easter Island, will not be around for generations. futures.

A recently released report, titled World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate, paints a chilling picture of the future of many of the world’s top tourist destinations.

Produced by the UNESCO World Heritage Center, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the Union of Concerned Scientists, in close collaboration with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the report details the current and future devastating effects of global warming on iconic sites around the world.

“Climate change is rapidly becoming one of the most significant risks to World Heritage sites in the world,” according to the report. “There is unequivocal scientific evidence showing that concentrations of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere are higher today than at any time in the past 800,000 years and that temperatures worldwide have increased by 1 degree Celsius since 1880. “

Rising temperatures translate into worsening heat waves, more extreme and more frequent precipitation and warming of the oceans that acidify. And these are just a few of the impacts of global warming.

All of this means that thousands of buildings, sites, parks and historic monuments are vulnerable.

“We live in a very dangerous time in terms of climate change,” said Peter DeBrine, senior project manager for the sustainable tourism program at the UNESCO World Heritage Center in France. “What we are seeing today is unprecedented, 2016 was the hottest year on record. In Asia there have been severe droughts and now horrific monsoons. And that’s just one example. .. We are seeing all of this firsts in the world and all of these records are broken. “

There are currently 1,000 World Heritage properties in 163 countries. The report provides detailed case studies for 31 of these sites.

Famous risky tourist destinations in the United States include Yellowstone National Park, Mesa Verde National Park and the Statute of Liberty, one of New York’s most legendary stops.

Designed to appear invulnerable, the statue, which has welcomed countless waves of immigrants and tourists, is actually at considerable risk. Rising sea levels and increasingly intense storms and storm surges are among the greatest threats.

Sea levels along the Atlantic coast, from North Carolina to Maine to New York, have risen four times as fast as the rest of the U.S. coast in the past 20 years, the report points out.

“100% of Liberty National Monument’s assets are at high risk of sea level rise due to the island’s extremely low elevation and vulnerability to storms,” ​​the report said.

Hurricane Sandy of 2012 foreshadowed the potential damage the statue could suffer thanks to Mother Nature. Sandy floodwaters inundated 75% of Liberty Island, causing extensive damage to infrastructure and facilities. Combined with Ellis Island, the cost of repairs was over $ 77 million.

“In terms of impacts, we see them today,” says DeBrine. “What happened with Hurricane Sandy and how it impacted the Statue of Liberty is a good example of what is already happening today. The impacts of global warming are happening much earlier than us. The thought. Global temperatures are rising faster than we thought and there is a lot of uncertainty. The big message is that we need to cut emissions. “

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Scientists are also very concerned about Yellowstone National Park. Temperatures in the Rocky Mountain states, where Yellowstone is located, have risen by 1.17 degrees Celsius since 1895, with the biggest changes in recent decades.

This has resulted in shorter winters, less snowfall and a decrease in the duration of snow on the ground in Yellowstone. The amount of snow in the park and the timing of the snowmelt, in turn, affects the rivers and streams in Yellowstone. Smaller amounts of snow and runoff combined with warmer summer temperatures warm the water in Yellowstone’s rivers and decrease the amount of water they contain.

It may seem harmless to some, but the warmer temperatures are impacting things like native cutthroat trout, causing the population to decline by 26%.

Yellowstone lakes and wetlands are also shrinking in parts of the park. Scientists estimate that 40% of the wetlands in the Yellowstone ecosystem could be lost.

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Globally, the city of Venice and its extraordinary assemblage of Byzantine, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture is perhaps the best illustration of the impacts of climate change and sea level rise.

Hundreds of buildings in the ancient city have already been damaged by flood waters, and walking in the famous St. Mark’s Square regularly requires wearing knee-high waders.

“In Venice, the risk is very acute”, explains DeBrine. “Venice has invested a huge amount of money in a barrier to protect it from tidal waves but even the measures they put in place may not be enough. And you have the geology of the lagoon, you can’t cut it off completely. . It would be an environmental disaster. “

The report also points out that more than half of the world’s reefs are threatened by climate change, a fact that is unlikely to change no matter what we do. Even under the most ambitious scenarios of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, 70% of the world’s corals are expected to suffer from long-term degradation by 2030.

And it’s not just the tourist spots themselves that are at risk, the economies and surrounding communities that have become dependent on these iconic destinations and attractions are also threatened by their demise, according to the report.

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“Every day that we don’t treat this as a global emergency, with an appropriate emergency, is a wasted day,” said Betsy Rosenberg, who for years hosted an environment radio show on KCBS and Air America, before launching it. own EcoTalk and On the Green Front shows. “The impacts have already happened to our coasts – tornadoes, cyclones, floods, fires and droughts. We see recording this, recording that, all of this is the imprint of climate chaos.”

Rosenberg, an award-winning broadcast journalist with more than two decades of experience, has just developed a pilot environmental news show and says she is increasingly frustrated and dismayed by the media’s lack of attention to this issue. important. Networks such as CNN largely ignore the environment, Rosenberg points out.

“We let the media get away with not forcing them to do something,” she continues. “Every major and minor ecosystem is showing signs of decline. This is a global change taking place, which is having so many effects on our oceans, forests, crops and water. It’s amazing we weren’t going Code Red. We’re world-class deniers in the United States and it’s going to cost our children and grandchildren dearly. “

Marty Essen, the award-winning author of two books, whose new bookEndangered Edens: Explore the National Arctic Wildlife Refuge, Costa Rica, the Everglades and Puerto Rico, traveled to seven continents in the process of writing his books and came away with similar concerns about the state of the planet.

“I see the damage caused by global warming everywhere I go,” he says. “It’s very shocking. That’s why I write my books, to raise awareness. It’s not a hoax.”

UNESCO’s report looks to the future with optimism and direction. In particular, the report places hope in the adoption on the world stage of two documents – Transforming our world of the United Nations General Assembly: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and also the historic Accord of Bets on climate change.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the associated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly call for enhanced efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage, with a long list specific and measurable actions.
The Paris Agreement represents for the first time a global consensus on capping global warming.

“Together, these two international agreements provide a new framework to guide governments in their response to climate change and orient them towards sustainable development. If implemented, they can support a framework conducive to the protection of World Heritage and tourist destinations for future generations, ”the report says.

But that’s a big if in the previous sentence, and history has shown that there are a lot of skeptics, obstacles and delays when it comes to global warming and action.

Brenda Ekwurzel, chief climatologist for the Union of Concerned Scientists, who helped produce the report, says the big takeaway for the average traveler is:

“First and foremost, if I had a list of sites that I wanted to see, that I reserved for the end of my life, I would save time to visit these places now, sooner rather than later,” she says. .

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In addition, Ekwurzel says there are small actions people can start to incorporate into their daily lives to help fight this monumental battle, simple things like washing clothes in cold water rather than water. hot, resulting in five times less CO2 emissions.

For those who own a car, make sure that the next time you buy a vehicle, it is the most fuel efficient car for your size needs.

You can also vote with your dollar, supporting businesses that are clearly committed to sustainable and environmentally responsible day-to-day practices, including businesses in the tourism industry, such as cruise ships that have recycling programs and more.

“We’re on the right track – we can’t change what’s going to happen by 2030 because we inherited these impacts from our parents and grandparents. But after 2030, that’s when let the scenarios start to diverge, ”says Ekwurzel. “So what we do by 2030 will determine whether – after that date – we have a reasonable scenario that we can live with that will save a lot of these sites, or a much scarier path.”


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