Climate change is increasingly damaging the UN's most cherished heritage sites, a leading conservation agency has warned, reporting that Australia's Great Barrier Reef and dozens of other natural wonders are facing severe threats.
Climate change that has led to shrinking glaciers, increasing fires, floods and droughts, and the bleaching of coral reefs are among the troubles facing 83 of the 252 World Heritage Sites listed by Unesco, the UN's cultural agency.
Sixteen World Heritage Sites have deteriorated since the last World Heritage Outlook was released three years ago, while only eight improved, said the International Union for Conservation of Nature, made up of governments and civil society groups and which advises Unesco on natural threats to those sites.
"Natural World Heritage Sites are amongst the world's most precious places, and we owe it to future generations to protect them," IUCN Director-General Bruno Oberle said.
"Climate change is wreaking (havoc) on natural world heritage, from shrinking glaciers to coral bleaching to increasingly frequent and severe fires and droughts."
The report says the Great Barrier Reef, where ocean warming, acidification and extreme weather have added to the coral decline and shrinking marine species populations, was one of four sites in Australia under "very high" threat.
The islands of protected areas in the Gulf of California in Mexico have also entered the "critical" category in the listing. Spain's Garajonay National Park, Olympic National Park in the United States, and Mexico's Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve are among those under "very high" threat, according to the new report.
It said while 63 per cent of the heritage sites were classified as "good" or "good with some concerns," 30 per cent were of "significant concern" and 7 per cent were in "critical" shape.
In a difference from the previous two IUCN reports, climate change has eclipsed "invasive alien species" — such as when foreign rodents, fish or plants are transplanted, accidentally or not, to new environments — as the most potent threat against such sites.
Human activities like tourism, hunting and fishing, and livestock grazing have also had an impact.
Climate of emergency
On Wednesday, New Zealand became the 33rd country to acknowledge climate change as a global crisis.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared a "climate emergency" and gained support of Parliament to pass a motion which would see New Zealand commit to a "carbon-neutral" economy by 2025.
The motion was opposed by National and the Act party; the opposition parties saying they were committed to reducing emissions but that the emergency was disingenuous.
"To declare a climate emergency is nothing but a stunt, it's not a solution," Act spokesperson Simon Court said.
New Zealand's has three Unesco World Heritage Sites: Tongariro National Park; the Sub-Antarctic Islands; and Te Wāhipounamu (encompassing Westland Tai Poutini, Aoraki/Mount Cook, Mount Aspiring and Fiordland national parks).
Previous Unesco State of Conservation reports have identified livestock grazing and water infrastructure as man-made threats. In 2018, a Unesco report said Te Wāhipounamu was expected to lose its glaciers and alpine habitats by 2100 - if the world continued with a projected "high emissions scenario" .
- Associated Press