Warming Prompts Petitions to Expand World Heritage Danger List

PARIS, France, November 18, 2004 (ENS) - Petitions from three developing countries were presented to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Paris today asking that sites in Belize, Nepal and Peru be protected from the effects of climate change.

The petitions ask the Committee urgently to place the Belize Barrier Reef, the Huascáran National Park in Peru, and the Sagarmatha National Park in Nepal on the List of World Heritage in Danger. The petitioners are urging the Committee to consider these danger listing at their next annual meeting in June 2005.

Placement on the Danger List is a legal mechanism under the UNESCO World Heritage Convention requiring an increased level of protection for the listed site. Governments that are Parties to the Convention have a legal obligation to transmit World Heritage Sites to future generations.


Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage Site (Photo courtesy UNESCO)
The Belize Barrier Reef, described by Charles Darwin in 1842 as “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies,” has already been damaged by higher temperatures, and will be damaged further, according to the petitioner, the Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy.

Candy Gonzalez on behalf of the Institute, said, “The Belize Barrier Reef is a magnificent feast of sight and color. Unfortunately, it is under enormous stress from the changing climate, hurricanes, degradation, uncontrolled development, disease and other degradation. Now, with climate change upon us, is more important than ever to focus our attention on protecting this precious and unique area for future generations.”

In Peru, the Huascáran National Park, located in the Cordillera Blanca in the Peruvian Andes, is the world's highest tropical mountain range, with Mount Huascáran rising to 6,768 meters. More than 20 percent of the glacial coverage has been lost in the Peruvian Andes since 1968, and melting glaciers form lakes which could burst if action is not taken. The park is inhabited by the spectacled bear and the Andean condor. The lead petitioner is Foro Ecologico del Peru.


Huascáran National Park World Heritage Site (Photo courtesy UNESCO)
Carlos Soria, legal adviser with Foro Ecológico del Perú, said, “We hold a responsibility to the world. This is a call for immediate attention to the planet's climate. The melting of the ice glaciers is a loss for humankind. But even worse is the crude reality of the devastating effects at the local level. We demand support for the necessary investment in education, monitoring and prevention measures. We expect the the World Heritage Committee to take the specific recommendations of our petition and implement them.”

In Nepal, the Sagarmatha National Park is dominated by Mount Everest/Sagarmatha, at 8,848 meters, the highest peak in the world.

Himalayan glaciers have been in retreat for decades and a resulting hazard is the formation of many glacial lakes at risk from outburst flood. One study has identified 13 of these lakes in the park. The lead petitioner is Forum for the Protection of Public Interest (Pro Public) / Friends of the Earth Nepal.

Prakash Sharma, director of Pro Public / Friends of the Earth Nepal said, “Mount Everest is a powerful symbol of the natural world, not just in Nepal. If this mountain is threatened by climate change, then we know the situation is deadly serious. If we fail to act, we are failing future generations and denying them the chance to enjoy the beauty of mother earth.”

Co-petitioners include record-holding Everest climbers Pemba Dorjee Sherpa and Temba Tsheri Sherpa, as well as Reinhold Messner, Sir David Attenborough and Sir Chris Bonington.

Co-petitioner Temba Tsheri Sherpa, who in 2001 at age 16 was the youngest to climb Sagarmatha/Everest. said, “Everest is the pride of the nation, but more than this, it is a gift to the world. Lake Tsho Rolpa has formed near the area where I come from. Local people live in fear that the lake will burst.”


Sagarmatha is an exceptional area with dramatic mountains, glaciers and deep valleys, dominated by Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world. Several rare species, such as the snow leopard and the lesser panda, are found in the park. (Photo courtesy UNESCO)
Co-petitioner Pemba Dorjee Sherpa, the fastest recorded climber of Everest, who has climbed the mountain four times, said, “Last year when Edmund Hillary came to Everest, he told me that so much snow had melted in the 50 years since he first climbed Everest. Everest is losing its natural beauty. If this continues, then tourists won’t come any more. Our communities rely on tourism. It’s my livelihood, as a tour guide and climber, and if we lose this, there will be nothing for our children.”

The petitions are the result of much preparatory legal work. E-LAW U.S., based in Eugene, Oregon has been working with the UK's Climate Justice Programme an initiative hosted by Friends of the Earth International, to help advocates in Nepal, Belize, and Peru develop legal strategies and work together to challenge policies and practices that damage the global climate.

Over 70 organizations and lawyers are signatories to the Climate Justice Programme's Statement of Support, including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, WWF and organizations based in developing countries.

Peter Roderick, director of the Climate Justice Programme, said, “Glaciers and coral reefs are the canaries in the coal mine. The World Heritage Committee must urgently investigate these sites and ensure that everything necessary is done to maintain their world heritage status, to keep people safe and to pass them on intact to future generations."

"Legal duties require this action, including the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, " said Roderick, "and these duties must be respected both within the UNESCO and Kyoto processes.”

A program of corrective measures must be adopted if a site is placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger. Currently, 35 of the 788 UNESCO World Heritage Sites are on the danger list.