World heritage sites are areas or landmarks whose conservation is considered to be important for all mankind. Some of these world heritage sites include man-made constructions that mark important periods in human history like Egypt’s pyramids and the Great Wall of China.
We also have sites like the Great Barrier Reef in Australia that showcase our planet’s natural beauty and collectively, most of these sites are registered with UNESCO.
UNESCO has played a key role in identifying, preserving and protecting the world’s natural and cultural heritage, but it now faces a major opponent, global warming.
Global warming has started to result in stronger heatwaves and rising sea levels, and both these factors have been detrimental to many world heritage sites.
After Sir Edmund P. Hillary scaled Mount Kilimanjaro in 1953 with Sardar Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, many hikers have come to try climbing Earth’s highest peak. The general area that surrounds this mountain gets visited by at least 20,000 people annually who want to witness its scenic beauty.
The scenic beauty of this world heritage site lies mostly on the snow that this mountain has and the region that this mountain is getting hotter. Temperatures have been rising by 33.8 degrees Fahrenheit every year since the mid-1970s in the Himalayas resulting in the disappearance of over 60% of this region’s glaciers.
If nothing is done to curb the effects of global warming, Mt Everest will become bare and rocky, which not only will affect this mountain’s beauty, but also lead to natural disasters.
Hikers will find it harder to climb and the water from the ice will increase the frequency and magnitude of floods severely affecting the communities that live downstream.
Venice established itself in the 5th century on an array of over 100 small islands connected by over 400 bridges and canals. The city is famous for its rich cultural history because of the number of artworks in it and for being a symbol of mankind succeeding against a hostile environment.
Unfortunately, the fight between nature and Venetians isn’t over as climate change is playing a role in the rising sea levels of this city. Floods are becoming worse in this area too, as the city recently experienced a flood with six-foot-high water levels, which is the highest in 50 years.
While flooding isn’t new to Venice due to the occasional high tides that the city experiences called the Aqua Alta, these occurrences are becoming more frequent. With seawater levels expected to rise by more than 1 meter in 2100, the buildings in this city will suffer irreparable damage and the city could sink deeper.
Mt Kilimanjaro is an ancient volcano and the highest mountain in Africa with its highest peak Kibo towering at 19,341 feet above sea level. After Hans Meyer and Ludwig Purtscheller reached this mountain’s peak, this world heritage site became popular amongst mountaineers.
Almost 60,000 people visited this place in 2013 and the number is still on the rise. And to make matters worse, the Tanzanian government is planning a cable car for the mountain and it is predicted to shoot up the number of visitors by at least 50%. Since this place’s beauty relies on good weather and a good environment, a change in its climate could lead to drastic aesthetic consequences.
Unfortunately, we are already starting to experience these consequences as precipitation patterns and rising temperatures have reduced the amount of snow that this mountain has.
In 1912, the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro had almost 40,000 square feet of snow covering it; in 1989, this number stepped down to 10,843 square feet. If snow continues to disappear at this rate, experts say this mountain could lose all of it by the end of this century.
Chan Chan Archeological Zone
The Chan Chan Archeological Zone is the capital city of the Chimu Kingdom, an ancient civilization that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries before the Inca conquered it.
This city in Peru is one of the biggest earthen constructions in the Americas and it is also regarded as town planning marvel because of its strategic use of space.
Unfortunately, the city of Chan Chan made it to the list of world heritage sites that are in danger on the same day of its getting registered with UNESCO. This is because the city was essentially built with mud and the heavy El Nino rainfall is damaging the city’s buildings at their bases.
El Ninos forms when the ocean water in the Pacific gets warmer than usual. It can cause dry weather in places as far as India and Australia. If ocean temperatures continue increasing, we will have more El Nino like in 2015 that broke records in terms of damage and could lose Chan Chan forever.
The Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most beautiful places north-east of Australia, and it is also the world’s biggest coral reef ecosystems. This world heritage site stretches out over 1,000 miles of the Australian ocean, where it takes up about 214,000 square miles of space.
Over 1,000 species of fish live in this reef alongside animal species that faced with extinction like loggerhead turtles, green turtles, and the dugong. Since this coral reef is in a place that is dangerously close to its upper heat tolerance levels, many of the corals in it have turned pale. In the last three decades, it has lost half of its coral cover and as per estimates, it could all be gone by 2050.
What makes these corals turn pale is that they do not get enough algae to feed on and thus lose out on many important nutrients. Coral reefs can survive temporary and moderate bleaching events, but they’re usually weakened and this can affect future generations of coral.
Cesky Krumlov is a town built to surround an old 13th-century Czech castle that has Baroque, Renaissance and Gothic elements infused into its design. This town rests on the Vitava River that is situated south of Prague; it is an authentic European medieval town that has remained unscathed over the centuries.
While this ancient city has survived times of war in Europe, it is still severely exposed to natural disasters that come with climate change. One of these disasters is a flood that hit the city’s Historic Centre in 2002 and left it drenched in 13 feet of water.
Some people argue that this flood was not caused by climate change, but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has a report that proves this wrong. This report shows a precipitation increase of up to 1% in each decade of the 20th century and also an increase in the frequency of heavy precipitation.
If another massive flood comes to this region again, Cesky Krumlov could lose many of its authentic medieval buildings.
Area de Conservación Guanacaste
Many natural habitats are in this place like a rainforest, a dry forest and a cloudy forest in which a multitude of plant and animal life resides. Area de Conservacion Guanacaste’s biological landscape includes terrestrial and coastal ecosystems that are home to endangered and/or rare animal and plant species.
Unfortunately, these diverse environments have lost many of their native life forms; some of these include the 110 frog species that are now extinct. That is about 67% of the frog species that were there. Some people have argued that this is only due to deforestation, but researchers do not entirely agree with them.
In the case of the extinction of harlequin frogs, reports have shown that rising air temperatures increased the presence of clouds during the day. This made it hard for them to flee from a certain pathogen, and if the situation worsens, more species could die too.
While Herschel Island isn’t an official UNESCO recognized world heritage site, the organization is considering adding it to its list. This place holds a lot of natural and cultural value due to its many ecosystems; it is also a place where different generations of mankind settled.
Global warming has caused the ice in this area to melt and leave the coastal regions of Herschel Island exposed to storms. These storms have made the coastline to erode at an unprecedented speed and slowly slip away into the ocean.
Recently, big chunks of Herschel Island have been disappearing into the ocean and this has pushed the authorities to think of relocation plans. It is majorly threatening the foundations of prehistoric sod houses, Inuvialuit graves and the remains of a 19th-century colony built when the whaling industry was experiencing its best times.
Lying across three rivers and two countries (India and Bangladesh), the Sundarbans mangrove forests are the largest of their kind as they cover over 6,000 square miles of territory. These forests have been acting as a barrier, a water filtration system and the home of many species of animals, including the Bengal tiger.
Rising sea levels, however, have been claiming chunks of land from these forests, disrupting the diets of many animals that live in the forest. Rising sea levels will continue damaging the homes of many people who live near these forests.
Tigers from the forests are also expected to continue raiding the livestock of villagers in the surrounding areas, attacks on people will rise too.
What earned the Ilulissat Icefjord its UNESCO recognition as a world heritage site is that it is a remnant of the last ice age that our planet went through. Its ice sheets are crucial to scientists who study past climates, but with global warming, the ice sheets in this area are now in danger.
Since the ice in this area is slowly melting away, many people have come to visit this place before it is too late. Greenland’s authorities encourage people to come and see firsthand what global warming does to glaciers.
Melting glaciers won’t just affect this world heritage site’s aesthetic and scientific value; they’re also compromising evidence of ancient Eskimo settlers.