In January 2009 we lodged a joint petition with the US-based Earthjustice to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee requesting action at their next meeting to protect World Heritage sites from the global warming impacts of black carbon air pollution, which accelerates the impacts of global warming in high latitude and high altitude regions. Such glacier loss and the resulting sea level rise threaten many other World Heritage sites globally, especially those dependent on meltwater from glaciers, or those with coral reefs or near coastal lowlands.
Recent scientific studies have found black carbon, a component of soot, or fine particulate air pollution that comes from the burning of fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass, is a key climate disruptor. Black carbon has a strong warming effect in the atmosphere and when it lands on snow, ice caps and glaciers. By reducing the reflectivity of these surfaces, black carbon causes widespread and faster melting, causing sea level rise and other climate changes.
Because black carbon remains in the atmosphere for only a handful of days, compared to other greenhouse gases which may remain in the atmosphere for over 100 years, reducing black carbon emissions may be among the most effective near-term strategies for slowing the amplified climate warming. Yet the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change does not address global warming caused by black carbon. The petition urges the World Heritage Committee to step into the breach to preserve World Heritage until the long-term effects of the UNFCCC process can be realised. The petition requests the Committee to place climate-threatened sites on the “List of World Heritage in Danger,” to advance research and mitigation strategies to reduce black carbon, and to alert the UNFCCC and others about this threat to World Heritage sites.
“With immediate action, the World Heritage Committee can assist States Parties to reduce emissions of this pollutant and slow the rate of glacial melt and resulting sea level rise that threaten World Heritage sites such as the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu National Park,” said Keely Boom, Executive Officer of the Climate Justice Programme.
“Because black carbon has an atmospheric lifetime of only days or weeks, reducing emissions has an immediate effect that can slow global warming in the near term,” said Jessica Lawrene of Earthjustice. “As our petition outlines, such immediate actoin may be necessary to protect many World Heritage sites such as Waterton Glacier International Peace Park on the U.S./Canada border, the Ilulissat Icefjord in Greenland, and Sagarmatha National Park in Nepal, where Mount Everest is located.”