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World Heritage Review 100: Climate change
Climate change is the defining issue of our time, and among the greatest threats facing cultural and natural heritage today. One in three natural sites and one in six cultural heritage sites are currently threatened by climate change.
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In recent months and years, we have seen cultural and natural heritage sites, including many World Heritage sites, threatened by wildfires, floods, storms and mass-bleaching events. We have also seen how climate change puts living heritage – oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, festive events and traditional knowledge – at risk. As climate change leads to displacement and forced migration, entire ways of life risk being lost forever.
In the midst of a historic COP26, with more than 100 countries pledging to end deforestation by 2030, UNESCO’s recent report, World Heritage forests: Carbon sinks under pressure, which we analyze at length in this issue, could not be more timely. The report finds that a staggering 60% of World Heritage forests are threatened by climate change-related events. Marine sites are equally under pressure. Two-thirds of these vital carbon stores - home to 15% of global blue carbon assets - are currently experiencing high risks of degradation, according to the UNESCO Marine World Heritage: Custodians of the globe’s blue carbon assets study, and if no action is taken, coral may disappear at natural heritage sites by the end of the century.
In response to this undeniable impact of climate change on culture, UNESCO is working to build the capacities of countries and communities to prepare for and recover from climate-change related impacts and disasters. At the same time, we are committed to harnessing the potential of culture for climate action, which still remains largely untapped. From tangible and living heritage to museums and creativity, culture represents a wellspring to combat climate change through mitigation and adaptation.