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The World Is Set To Lose 31 Heritage Sites. Still Don’t Believe In Climate Change?

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By Kiran Pandey:

Note: This article has been republished from Down To Earth.

A mangrove forest in the Sundarbans, Source: Flickr
A mangrove forest in the Sundarbans. Source: Flickr

The world’s most famous natural and cultural heritage sites are threatened by risks linked to climate change including rising sea levels to extreme weather, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has warned in its report, ‘World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate (2016)’. The report gave a miss to the iconic Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Sundarbans in India.

The report documents climate impacts on 31 natural and cultural World Heritage sites in 29 countries from Africa, the Arab World, Asia and the Pacific, North America, Latin America and Europe. These sites are most vulnerable to increasing temperatures, melting glaciers, rising seas, intensifying weather events, worsening droughts and longer wildfire seasons, warns the report.

It has explained the climate impacts at iconic tourism sites — including Venice, Stonehenge and the Galápagos Islands — and other World Heritage sites such as South Africa’s Cape Floral Region Protected Areas; the Port, Fortresses and city of Cartagena, Colombia; and the Shiretoko peninsula in Japan.

A study published in March 2014 too had warned that 136 World Heritage sites are threatened by rising sea levels over the next 2,000 years. However, this new report looks at the impact of other threats, including wildfires, increasing temperatures and droughts too.

“Climate change is affecting World Heritage sites across the globe,” said Adam Markham (read interview of Markham with Down To Earth), lead author of the report and Deputy Director of the Climate and Energy Program at UCS. “Some Easter Island statues are at risk of being lost to the sea because of coastal erosion. Many of the world’s most important coral reefs, including in the islands of New Caledonia in the western Pacific, have suffered unprecedented coral bleaching linked to climate change this year. Climate change could eventually even cause some World Heritage sites to lose their status.” The report also refers to the publicly accessible online World Heritage State of Conservation Information System for other reports which have identified climate-related threats.

World Heritage Sites From Australia And India Get A Miss

All references to climate change’s impact on World Heritage sites in Australia have been removed from the report as demanded by Environment Department, Australia. The report initially included information about the Great Barrier Reef, as well as Kakadu National Park and the Tasmanian wilderness.

The Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef. Source: lockthegate/Flickr

Markham, the lead author said, “All of these places have some impact, some of them are in extreme danger and I am disappointed that content about Australia was removed.”

The Sundarbans, recognised as a World Heritage Site in 1987 too has not been listed in the report. The low-lying mangrove forests are highly susceptible to the effects of sea-level rise.

Both, the Great Barrier Reef and the Sundarbans have not been listed in the Postsdam study and this UNESCO report. In fact, the Potsdam study had warned about the impact of sea-level rise on four major Indian sites including the Elephanta Caves, a group of monuments at Mahabalipuram and the famous Sun Temple at Konarak, Odisha.

Climate Impacts Will Affect The Ecosystem And Tourism-Dependent Economy In Asia, Africa And Latin America

At least nine out of these sites are the famous national parks known for their unique ecosystem and rich biodiversity in Africa, Asia-Pacific and the Latin America.

For example, Komodo National Park in Indonesia is known for Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), the largest living species of lizard and one that exists nowhere else on Earth. Increased rainfall associated with climate change in the very dry Komodo islands could inundate lizard breeding areas and change the vegetation to habitats that are less hospitable to them, warns the report.

Just less than 50 percent of the world’s remaining endangered 880 mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) live in south-western Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. Gorillas are iconic here and the gorilla tourism has the potential to generate US$ 151 million each year. But the mountain gorillas which are already under threat from human encroachment and habitat loss — are put at longer-term risk from climate-driven changes in their forest habitat and from the potential increase of transmission of diseases from humans in a warmer world.

The threatened national parks in Africa, Asia-Pacific and the Latin America


  • Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda
  • Cape Floral Region Protected Areas, South Africa
  • Lake Malawi National Park, Malawi


  • Wadi Rum Protected Area, Jordan
  • Komodo National Park, Indonesia
  • Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal

Latin and South America

  • Huascarán National Park, Peru
  • Atlantic Forest South-East Reserves, Brazil
  • Rapa Nui National Park (Easter Island), Chile

Worsening Extreme Weather Events Pose Risk To Cultural Heritage

Rice terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, the exceptionally beautiful and important cultural landscape, which draws tourists from all over the world, is highly sensitive to climate change and is suffering from landslides as a result of the worsening extreme rainfall events, are major problems.

Through all of its nearly 500-year history, Cartagena in South America has been inextricably tied to the sea. The city now faces its greatest modern challenge as a result of accelerated sea-level rise, coastal flooding and shoreline erosion. The walls, parapets, forts and buildings that comprise the World Heritage site are subject to varying degrees of risk.

The Way Ahead

This report demonstrates the urgent need to better understand, monitor and address climate change threats to world heritage. It suggests an early warning system to alert protected area managers of the emerging problems. It demands a global assessment of climate risk to all World Heritage sites, so that the most vulnerable sites can be identified and resources for preparedness and resilience can be directed to the most at-risk sites.

“Globally, we need to better understand, monitor and address climate change threats to World Heritage sites,” said Mechtild Rössler, Director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre.

World Heritage sites must have “outstanding universal value,” says the report and recommends World Heritage Committee to consider the risk of prospective sites becoming degraded by climate change before the sites are added to the list.

How Do Sustainable Development Goals And Paris Agreement Contribute In Conservation Of The World Heritage Sites

The new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offers an important opportunity for World Heritage. The 2030 Agenda addresses cultural heritage in the context of sustainable development for the first time. Target 11.4 of the SDGs calls for “strengthening efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage” and directly reflects the World Heritage Convention, which was the first international treaty to link these two elements.

In the Paris Agreement, the new emphasis on preventing deforestation will increase the importance of forest conservation efforts in World Heritage sites, their buffer zones and surrounding areas. Reductions in fossil fuel use will have the added benefit of reducing the number of World Heritage sites threatened by oil and gas exploration and development.

The agreement also highlighted the need to implement a new international approach to managing climate-driven disasters by shifting from a focus on reducing disaster losses to a comprehensive management vision – building on the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030.

It also established the potential for World Heritage sites to become key focal points for countries in building clean and resilient futures, and this may enable developing nations to access new support, including finance.

“The most important thing we can do to save World Heritage for our children and grandchildren is, implement the Paris Agreement and try to meet the goal of keeping global temperature rise to no more than 1.5˚C. The planet’s thermometer is already at 1˚C, so there is no time to lose” says Markham, the lead author.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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