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World Heritage Committee to Consider Global Warming Effects

DURBAN, South Africa, July 18, 2005 (ENS) - The world's tallest mountain, with its melting glaciers, will not be inscribed on the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger this year, but an expert working group will be established to consider climate change, the World Heritage Committee has decided. Winding up its annual meeting Sunday, the Committee recognized that climate change is a serious issue that deserves "early action."

"The impacts of climate change are affecting many and are likely to affect many more World Heritage properties," the Committee stated. But the 21 nation committee did not make any decision on whether to put Nepal's Everest, or Sagarmatha, National Park on the Danger List.

A UK proposal to host a meeting of the expert group was accepted, and the climate experts will report to next year's meeting of the World Heritage body on what can be done to respond to the threat of climate warming.

Environmental campaigners and lawyers have petitioned the World Heritage Committee to reconsider listing Everest and two other sites impacted by climate at next year's meeting, when the working group reports.

Meanwhile, the petitioners are welcome to attend the meeting of the expert climate group.

glaciers

Blue lakes created by melting Himalayan glaciers in Bhutan (Photo courtesy NASA)
Prakash Sharma, executive director of Pro Public, or Friends of the Earth Nepal, said, "It is a positive sign that the committee has considered our request to address the impact of climate change on the Sagarmatha National Park and has decided to form an expert group to work on recommendations for action."

"However," he warned, "the problems created by climate change in the park are immense. Large glacial lakes are forming which could burst at any moment, destroying the lives and livelihoods of local people. Waiting until the next meeting before taking action may be too late."

The melting of Himalayan glaciers as a result of climate change has swollen Himalayan lakes, increasing the risk of flooding. There is wide agreement that many lakes are at risk, but a lack of adequate monitoring means that there is no realistic assessment of how close any are to bursting.

The campaigners say that putting Everest National Park on the Danger List would mean the Committee would have to assess Nepal's glacial lakes and stabilise those most at risk.

"If the majestic beauty of Everest is lost, future generations would never forgive UNESCO for its inaction," said Sharma. "It is time for the committee to call for immediate action to protect all those World Heritage Sites which are being, and will be, impacted by climate change."

Other groups, including the Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy and Foro Ecológico del Perú, are calling for coral reefs in Belize and glaciers in Peru to be added to the Danger List as a result of climate change.

Peter Roderick, director of the Climate Justice Programme said, "Although these sites have not yet been placed on the UN danger list, we are delighted that at long last climate change is on the World Heritage Committee agenda, and that this issue will hopefully now be properly addressed.We appreciate the efforts of the UK delegation and the interventions of New Zealand, the Netherlands, Portugal and St. Lucia in helping to make this happen.

But unless industrialized countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, said Roderick, little can be achieved. "We can devise management plans until we are blue in the face, but the legal obligation to pass World Heritage Sites intact on to future generations will not be met without big cuts in emissions."

On Sunday, the World Heritage Committee, chaired by Themba Wakashe, South Africa’s deputy director-general for heritage and national archives, inscribed 17 cultural sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Osun

Yoruba sculptures in the Osun Sacred Grove, Nigeria. All Yoruba towns once had Sacred Groves, areas of virgin forest reserved for the worship of the gods. Unlike other Yoruba towns whose sacred Groves have atrophied, or disappeared, the Osogbo Grove has, over the past 40 years, been re-established as a central, living focus of the town. (Photo courtesy ICCROM)
Among the museums, ancient cities, and architectural treasures is one newly inscribed site that has an environmental component to its value, though it is listed as a cultural site.

In Nigeria, the dense forest of the Osun Sacred Grove, on the outskirts of the city of Osogbo, is one of the last remnants of primary high forest in southern Nigeria.

Regarded as the abode of the goddess of fertility Osun, one of the pantheon of Yoruba gods, the landscape of the grove and its meandering river is dotted with sanctuaries and shrines, sculptures and art works in honor of Osun and other Yoruba deities.

The Osun Sacred Grove, which is now seen as a symbol of identity for all Yoruba people, is probably the last sacred grove in Yoruba culture. It testifies to the once widespread practice of establishing sacred groves outside all settlements.

On Thursday, the World Heritage Committee inscribed seven natural sites on the List and extended two others. To see a description of the newly designated natural sites, visit: http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/jul2005/2005-07-15-06.asp

The World Heritage List now numbers 812 sites in total, which includes 628 cultural sites, 160 natural sites, and 24 mixed sites in 137 countries that are parties to the World Heritage Convention.



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