Climate change threatens world heritage sites

The Statue of Liberty in New York and the Sydney Opera House are threatened by rising sea levels caused by climate change. This is shown in a new study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

“The physical processes behind the global rise of the oceans are gradual, but they will continue for a very long time,” says climate scientist Ben Marzeion from the University of Innsbruck. Together with Anders Levermann from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the scientists computed the likely sea-level rise for each degree of global warming and identified regions where UNESCO World Heritage sites will be put at risk.

The UNESCO World Heritage List comprises a total of more than 700 cultural monuments, 40 of which will be threatened directly by water during the next 2000 years if global average temperature increases by just one degree Celsius. With a temperature increase of three degrees, 136 of sites will be below sea level.

The study demonstrates the pressing need to implement climate mitigation measures. “If our greenhouse-gas emissions increase as they have done in the past, physical models project a global warming of up to 5 degrees by the end of this century,” warns Levermann.

Apart from historical culture monuments, seven per cent of the world’s population currently lives in regions that will eventually be below sea level if temperatures rise to 3 degrees. “If that sea level rise occurred today, more than 600 million people would be affected and would have to find a new home,” emphasised Marzeion.

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