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World Heritage Centre Director Mechtild Rossler discusses impact of climate change on World Heritage sites

Mechtild Rössler, Director of the World Heritage Centre (08/12/2015) © UNESCO | Valentino Etowar
Saturday, 19 December 2015
access_time 1 min read

In the framework of the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21), Mechtild Rössler, Director of the World Heritage Centre, highlights the importance of understanding climate change and its impact on UNESCO World Heritage sites.

“Climate change concerns all of us.  It concerns World Heritage sites, especially islands in the Pacific and the Caribbean,” says Mechtild Rossler. 

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are generally more vulnerable to environmental challenges and hence the first to be impacted by climate change. SIDS have become an important area for World Heritage identification and protection.

The Director of the World Heritage Centre also emphasized that even in Europe, the impact of climatic change is affecting World Heritage sites like Venice and its Lagoon, inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1987. The climatic phenomenon of acqua alta is damaging the site by contributing to rising sea levels.

The impact of climate change on World Heritage cultural and natural properties was brought to the attention of the 29th session of the World Heritage Committee in 2005, and the Policy on Climate Change, which looks into mitigation and adaptation measures which can be taken by site managers, was adopted. But taking measures "is the responsibility of the whole global community which is concerned by heritage conservation,” says Ms Rossler.

From 30 November to 11 December 2015, Paris is hosting the COP 21. This session aims to produce a new international agreement to keep global warming below an increase of 2°C.  UNESCO is working in close synergy with the French authorities and the overall UN system in support of the event. In that context, UNESCO is also organizing and participating in events at its Headquarters in Paris.

Saturday, 19 December 2015
access_time 1 min read
Decisions (4)
Code: 32COM 7A.32

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Document WHC-08/32.COM/7A,

2. Recalling Decisions 29 COM 7B.a, 30 COM 7.1 and 31 COM 7.1, adopted at its 29th (Durban, 2005), 30th (Vilnius, 2006) and 31st (Christchurch, 2007) sessions respectively,

3. Also recalling Resolution 16 GA 10, adopted by the General Assembly of States Parties to the World Heritage Convention at its 16th session (UNESCO, 2007),

4. Noting the real danger from climate change faced by many World Heritage properties,

5. Decides to adopt the criteria proposed for assessing properties which are most threatened by climate change for inclusion on the List of World Heritage in Danger, noting that the emphasis of the corrective measures to be recommended should be on "adaptation" rather than on "mitigation";

6. Approves the following amendments to the Operational Guidelines:

            a) Amendment to Paragraph 179 (b) (vi):

                      threatening impacts of climatic, geological or other environmental factors. gradual changes due to geological, climatic or other environmental factors.

            b) New Paragraph : Paragraph 180 (b)(v):

                      threatening impacts of climatic, geological or other environmental factors.

            c) Amendment to Paragraph 181:

                      In addition, the factor or factors which are threatening threats and/or their deleterious impacts on the integrity of the property must be those which are amenable to correction by human action. In the case of cultural properties, both natural factors and man-made factors may be threatening, while in the case of natural properties, most threats will be man-made and only very rarely a natural factor (such as an epidemic disease) will threaten the integrity of the property. In some cases, the factor or factors which are threatening threats and/or their deleterious impacts on the integrity of the property may be corrected by administrative or legislative action, such as the cancelling of a major public works project or the improvement of legal status.

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Code: 30COM 7.1

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Document WHC-06/30.COM/7.1,

2. Recalling Decision 29 COM 7B.a adopted at its 29th session (Durban, 2005),

3. Also recalling the submission in 2005 of four petitions by civil society and non-governmental organizations on the impacts of Climate Change on World Heritage properties, complemented by an additional petition in February 2006,

4. Further recalling paragraph 44 of the Operational Guidelines,

5. Thanks the Government of the United Kingdom for having funded the meeting of experts, which took place on the 16th and 17th of March 2006 at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, and also thanks the United Nations Foundation for its support, as well as all the experts who contributed to the meeting;

6. Endorses the "Strategy to assist States Parties to implement appropriate management responses" described in Document WHC-06/30.COM/7.1, and requests the Director of the World Heritage Centre to lead the implementation of the "Global level actions" described in the Strategy through extrabudgetary funding and also takes note of the report on "Predicting and managing the impacts of Climate Change on World Heritage";

7. Encourages UNESCO, including the World Heritage Centre, and the Advisory Bodies to disseminate widely this strategy, the report, and any other related publications through appropriate means to the World Heritage community and the broader public;

8. Requests States Parties and all partners concerned to implement this strategy to protect the Outstanding Universal Value, integrity and authenticity of World Heritage sites from the adverse effects of Climate Change, to the extent possible and within the available resources, recognizing that there are other international instruments for coordinating the response to this challenge;

9. Invites States Parties, the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies to build on existing Conventions and programmes listed in Annex 4 of Document WHC-06/30.COM/7.1, in accordance with their mandates and as appropriate, in their implementation of Climate Change related activities;

10. Also requests States Parties, the World Heritage Centre, and the Advisory Bodies to seek ways to integrate, to the extent possible and within the available resources, this strategy into all the relevant processes of the World Heritage Convention including: nominations, reactive monitoring, periodic reporting, international assistance, capacity building, other training programmes, as well as with the "Strategy for reducing risks from disasters at World Heritage properties" (WHC-06/30.COM/7.2);

11. Strongly encourages the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies in collaboration with States Parties and other relevant partners to develop proposals for the implementation of pilot projects at specific World Heritage properties especially in developing countries, with a balance between natural and cultural properties as well as appropriate regional proposals, with the objective of developing best practices for implementing this Strategy including preventive actions, corrective actions and sharing knowledge, and recommends to the international donor community to support the implementation of such pilot projects;

12. Further requests the States Parties and the World Heritage Centre to work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), with the objective of including a specific chapter on World Heritage in future IPCC assessment reports;

13. Requests the World Heritage Centre to prepare a policy document on the impacts of climate change on World Heritage properties involving consultations with relevant climate change experts and practitioners of heritage conservation and management, appropriate international organizations and civil society, to be discussed at the General Assembly of States Parties in 2007. A draft of the document should be presented to the 31st session in 2007 for comments.

This draft should include considerations on:

      a) Synergies between conventions on this issue,

      b) Identification of future research needs in this area,

       c) Legal questions on the role of the World Heritage   Convention with regard to suitable responses to Climate Change,

       d) Linkages to other UN and international bodies dealing with the issues of climate change,

       e) Alternative mechanisms, other than the List of World Heritage in Danger, to address concerns of international implication, such as climatic change ;

14. Considers that the decisions to include properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger because of threats resulting from climate change are to be made by the World Heritage Committee, on a case-by-case basis, in consultation and cooperation with States Parties, taking into account the input from Advisory Bodies and NGOs, and consistent with the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention.

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Code: 29COM 7B.a

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Document WHC-05/29.COM/7B.Rev and the Draft Decision 29 COM 7B.a.Rev,

2. Recognizing the work being undertaken within the framework of the UN Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), and the need for a proper coordination of such work with the activities under the Convention,

3. Takes note of the four petitions seeking to have Sagarmatha National Park (Nepal), Huascaran National Park (Peru), the Great Barrier Reef (Australia) and the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (Belize) included on the List of World Heritage in Danger;

4. Appreciates the genuine concerns raised by the various organizations and individuals supporting these petitions relating to threats to natural World Heritage properties that are or may be the result of climate change;

5. Further notes that the impacts of climate change are affecting many and are likely to affect many more World Heritage properties, both natural and cultural in the years to come;

6. Encourages all States Parties to seriously consider the potential impacts of climate change within their management planning, in particular with monitoring, and risk preparedness strategies, and to take early action in response to these potential impacts;

7. Requests the World Heritage Centre, in collaboration with the Advisory Bodies, interested States Parties and petitioners, to establish a broad working group of experts to: a) review the nature and scale of the risks posed to World Heritage properties arising specifically from climate change; and b) jointly develop a strategy to assist States Parties to implement appropriate management responses;

8. Welcomes the offer by the State Party of the United Kingdom to host a meeting of such working group of experts;

9. Requests that the working group of experts, in consultation with the World Heritage Centre, the Advisory Bodies and other relevant UN bodies, prepare a joint report on “Predicting and managing the effects of climate change on World Heritage”, to be examined by the Committee at its 30th session (Vilnius, 2006);

10. Strongly encourages States Parties and the Advisory Bodies to use the network of World Heritage properties to highlight the threats posed by climate change to natural and cultural heritage, start identifying the properties under most serious threats, and also use the network to demonstrate management actions that need to be taken to meet such threats, both within the properties and in their wider context;

11. Also encourages UNESCO to do its utmost to ensure that the results about climate change affecting World Heritage properties reach the public at large, in order to mobilize political support for activities against climate change and to safeguard in this way the livelihood of the poorest people of our planet.

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Code: 29COM 7B.b

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Document WHC-05/29.COM/7B.Rev,

2. Having taken note of the serious threat posed by disasters on the conservation of World Heritage and of the very negative impact that disasters may have on perspectives for sustainable development and poverty eradication of communities living around affected World Heritage properties;

3. Strongly encourages the States Parties to the Convention to act swiftly with a view to integrate concern for heritage within their overall policies and operational mechanisms for disaster mitigation, and to develop appropriate risk-sensitive Management Plans for the World Heritage properties located in their territories;

4. Requests the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies to take into account the recommendations of the Kobe Thematic Session on “Risk Management for Cultural Heritage” in the elaboration of the strategy on riskpreparedness to be examined by the Committee at its 30th session (Vilnius, 2006);

5. Strongly encourages the international donor community to provide support to programmes aimed at the strengthening of risk management at World Heritage properties.

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