Story at a glance

  • World Heritage sites are designated by UNESCO, the U.N.’s cultural agency, as places on Earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity and receive protection.
  • UNESCO has listed 252 world heritage sites in total, and of these, 83 are being damaged by climate change due to an increase in the number of wildfires, floods, droughts, coral reef bleaching and the melting of glaciers, according to the latest report.
  • Since the last report was released three years ago, 16 sites have deteriorated while only eight have improved.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and dozens of other natural wonders of the world are facing an increasing threat of destruction due to climate change, according to a new report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). 

The IUCN World Heritage Outlook 3 report released this week says climate change is now the most prevalent current threat to World Heritage sites, surpassing the threat of invasive species which was previously said to be the primary threat to such sites in the IUCN’s 2017 report. 


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World Heritage sites are designated by UNESCO, the U.N.’s cultural agency, as places on Earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity and are protected. They include sites such as Yellowstone National Park, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. 

UNESCO has listed 252 world heritage sites in total, and of these, 83 are being damaged by climate change due to an increase in the number of wildfires, floods, droughts, coral reef bleaching and the melting of glaciers, according to the latest report.

Since the last report was released three years ago, 16 sites have deteriorated while only eight have improved. 

“More sites have deteriorated than have improved and, whilst we should celebrate the successes, the threats sites face are escalating. There is much work to be done to secure the conservation in perpetuity of them all,” the report states. 

The conservation outlook for the Great Barrier Reef — the world’s largest coral reef system — has worsened from “significant concern” to “critical,” the most urgent status under the IUCN system. The coral reef system has seen the most widespread mass bleaching ever over the past several years due to warming sea waters. 

The ocean warming, acidification and extreme weather are threatening marine species that call the vast reef system home. 

The report said 63 percent of heritage sites are designated as “good” or “good with some concerns,” while 30 percent fall under the “significant concern” category. Seven percent of the world’s sites are classified as “critical.” 


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Published on Dec 03, 2020