Glaciers and reefs under threat

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The United Nations’ cultural arm, UNESCO, has been urged to place the world’s highest peak Mount Everest and tropical coral reefs in Central America on its list of World Heritage in Danger due to the impacts of global warming.

A group of non-governmental organizations have handed a petition to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee (WHC), currently meeting in Durban, South Africa, with hopes that the inscription on the list could help enhance monitoring and precautionary measures.

The melting of Himalayan glaciers on the Nepalese side as a result of climate change has swollen Himalayan lakes, increasing the risk of catastrophic flooding that could threaten the lives of thousands of people and destroy a unique and irreplaceable environment, said Friends of the Earth Nepal, one of the campaign organizers.

“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,” it said in a press release.

Putting Nepal’s Everest (Sagarmatha) National Park on the endangered list would mean the committee would have to assess Nepal’s glacial lakes and stabilize those most at risk, it said.

The WHC overlooking the conservation of global heritage sites is to examine the state of conservation of those on the List of World Heritage in Danger from Monday.

There are 35 sites on the list currently, which face serious threat either from chemicals or mining, pollution, pillaging, war, poorly managed tourism or poaching.

Sir Edmund Hillary, who was the first man to reach the summit of Mount Everest, has also joined environmental campaigners and lawyers in the actions that started in November 2004.

“The warming of the environment of the Himalayas has increased noticeably over the last 50 years. This has caused several severe floods from glacial lakes and much disruption to the environment and local people,” Sir Edmund was quoted as saying by the press release.

“I agree the practical idea of remedial action of draining the lakes before they get to a dangerous condition is the only way to stop disasters,” he said.

The campaigners also want the WHC to place the Belize Barrier Reef in central America and the Huascaran National Park in Peru on the endangered list.

The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, inscribed as a World Heritage site in 1996, is the longest reef in the Northern Hemisphere. But it is experiencing “ascertained and potential dangers from the combined effects of global climate change,” as high sea water temperatures affected or even killed reefs, said a document circulated at the meeting.

The Huascaran National Park in Peru is facing threats similar to that in Nepal since climate change increases the risk of glacier lake outburst flood, as well as glacier retreat, said the document.

Inscribed onto the world heritage list in 1985, the Huascaran National Park is the world’s highest tropical mountain range with 722 identified glaciers

Calling climate change “the biggest threat the planet faces,” Catherine Pearce, Friends of the Earth’s International climate campaigner, said nations must wake up to the threat of global warming and do far more to cut emissions.

“The World Heritage Committee must make it clear that international law requires governments around the world to reduce their countries’ (greenhouse gas) emissions to ensure that the world’s most spectacular places remain for future generations,” said the campaigners.

Source: Xinhuanet