From: Alexandra Zavis, Associated Press
Published July 14, 2005 12:00 AM

World Heritage Committee to Investigate Effects of Climate Change, Postpones Decision on Mount Everest

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — UNESCO agreed Wednesday to investigate the effects of climate change on World Heritage Sites around the globe after environmental activists raised concerns about the threat to Mount Everest.


But the United Nations agency postponed a decision on whether to include the world's highest peak and two other sites on its endangered list.


No additions were made to the list at the 29th session of the U.N. Environmental, Scientific and Cultural Organization's World Heritage Committee this week in Durban, conference spokeswoman Justine Lang said. But three sites were removed due to improvements in their preservation: Mali's ancient city of Timbuktu, Ecuador's Sangay National Park and Albania's Butrint ruins.


Environmental campaigners warn that Himalayan lakes are swelling from the runoff of melting glaciers and could burst, threatening the lives of thousands of people and destroying Everest's unique environment.


They are also concerned about the effects of climate change on the coral reefs in Belize and glaciers in Peru.


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Campaigners from Friends of the Earth and the Climate Justice Program welcomed Wednesday's decision to set up an expert working group -- including the petitioners -- to look into the effects of climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions and devise a response.


But they urged the World Heritage Committee to reconsider listing the three sites at next year's meeting, when the working group reports back.


"If the majestic beauty of Everest is lost, future generations would never forgive UNESCO for its inaction," said Prakash Sharma, executive director of Pro Public, Friends of the Earth Nepal. "It is time for the committee to call for immediate action to protect all those World Heritage Sites which are being, and will be, impacted by climate change."


Activists also urged industrialized countries to play their part.


"Unfortunately, the work of heritage bodies is seriously undermined by the failure of the developed world to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions," said Peter Roderick, director of the Climate Justice Program.


Inclusion on the World Heritage in Danger List commits UNESCO to assessing the risk posed to a site and developing corrective measures with the governments concerned.


UNESCO's World Heritage Committee is responsible for implementing the 1972 U.N. Convention on the protection of cultural and natural sites around the world. Forty-two new sites were proposed for inclusion on the World Heritage List at this year's meeting. The list already protects 788 sites, of which 32 are now designated as endangered.


The 21-member committee noted in a statement a sharp reduction in human activity threatening Sangay National Park, including poaching, illegal grazing and unplanned road construction.


The committee also acknowledged preservation efforts in Timbuktu, a leading spiritual and intellectual center in the 15th and 16th centuries. They include restoration of residential buildings and mosques, work on water infrastructure, and the compilation of an inventory.


Butrint was deemed no longer at risk from looting that took place during the anarchy that gripped Albania in 1997. The committee also noted steps to improve protection, management and conservation of the site housing vestiges from the Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Venetian periods.


Source: Associated Press


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