Published on Friday, June 9, 2006 by the Independent / UK
The United Nations is facing pressure from scientists and campaigners to acknowledge the potentially devastating effect of climate change on the world's most precious ecological sites.
Environmental activists, who are concerned that poorer countries with low greenhouse gas emissions are being saddled with the damage wreaked by richer countries' soaring emission levels, are pressing the UN World Heritage Sites Committee to admit that five of its most important sites are being damaged, perhaps irrevocably, by climate change.
The barrier reefs of Belize and Australia and glacier parks in Nepal, Peru and the Rockies are supposed to be among the best-protected areas in the world, but are already showing clear signs of the effects of global warming.
Scientists in Belize working on the barrier reef there believe their case is particularly strong.
They say the reef, which runs for almost 200 miles along the coast of central America, has suffered more than 40 per cent damage due to bleaching since 1998, and that much of it is now so badly fractured that another hurricane this season would simply sweep it away.
Coral bleaching brought on by high temperatures in the western Caribbean has left the whitened reef vulnerable to over-fishing, pollution, hungry sea creatures and snorklers, as well as the storm waves that accompany hurricanes.
Dr McField expressed anger that Belize has been working hard to protect its reefs but is suffering from a problem beyond its control. Miguel Alamilla, who runs a marine protected area off the town of San Pedro, said the short-sighted environment policies of bigger industrial countries was harming those in the developing world.
Environments under threat
Belize Barrier Reef
Described by Charles Darwin as the "most remarkable reef in the West Indies", half of Belize's annual 260,000 tourists visit the World Heritage Site. It is a victim of severe coral bleaching.
Great Barrier Reef
Australia's most famous reef is home to one of the most intensely populated ecosystems. It is protected by World Heritage status but is highly sensitive to climate change.
Sagamartha National Park
Surrounded by mountains, Nepal's Sagamartha (literally, Mother of the Universe) is home to the glaciers that feed into the Ganges river system. As climate change melts its glaciers, the park and the millions in India and Bangladesh who rely on Himalayan rivers are at risk.
Husascaran National Park
The Cordillera Blanca mountain range and Peru's Husascaran National Park make up the world's highest tropical mountain range and are a vital asset to Peru both financially and scientifically. The park's plunging ravines are fed by a host of glacial lakes, which are highly susceptible to the effects of climate change.
The national park, which straddles the US and Canada and was the first region in the world to be declared an International Peace Park, has already lost 80 per cent of its glaciers because of rising summer temperatures.
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited
Summarized by Copernic Summarizer