By Jonah Bromwich, New York Times
Stonehenge eroding under the forces of extreme weather. The city of Venice slowly collapsing into its canals. The gradual flooding of the Statue of Liberty.
Images like these, familiar from Hollywood climate-catastrophe thrillers, were evoked by a joint report (pdf), released Thursday by UNESCO, the United Nations Environment Program and the Union of Concerned Scientists, that detailed the threat climate change could pose to World Heritage sites on five continents.
Adam Markham, the deputy director for climate and energy at the Union of Concerned Scientists and the report’s lead author, said that while many of the sites were bound to be affected by factors including a rise in sea levels, intense storms and wildfires, planning could go a long way toward protecting them.
“It is a very tough challenge, but if we recognize the scale of the problem — and I don’t think most people realize how big it is or how fast the changes are coming — then I think there is a lot we can do,” he said.
The report highlights 31 sites in 29 countries that have already felt some impact from climate change, including well-known tourist destinations like Easter Island and Yellowstone National Park. It was drawn from peer-reviewed science literature, technical reports and local experts, as well as domestic evaluations of the sites prepared for the World Heritage Committee.
Although the report emphasizes the importance of the recent Paris climate accord, Markham said that emissions already affecting the climate…