Statue of Liberty Among Iconic Destinations at Risk From Climate Change: UN Report

The report from the United Nations, other scientists, highlights dangers from rising seas, wildfires

Just as tourists are expected to flock to the Statue of Liberty over the Memorial Day weekend, a new report warns of the threat from climate change to the symbol of freedom and other landmarks across the world.

The report focuses on the risks to 31 World Heritage sites, such as rising seas, drought, wildfires, coastal erosion and other results of a changing climate. Among the sites at risk: Yellowstone National Park and Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, which are both facing more frequent and more severe wildfires.

"From Venice and its lagoon to the Galápagos Islands, some of the world’s most iconic World Heritage sites are vulnerable to climate change," cautions the report "World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate."

It was written by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization or UNESCO, the United Nations Environmental Program and the Union of Concerned Scientists, and covers 29 countries.

More than 1,000 properties have been designated World Heritage sites, many of them important tourism destinations, according to the report. Earlier studies evaluated the danger to other World Heritage sites.

The Statue of Liberty was closed to visitors after Hurricane Sandy flooded 75 percent of Liberty Island in October 2012, the report noted. It did not reopen until July 4, 2013. Nearby Ellis Island was also damaged — for a total of $77 million in costs at both sites — and Ellis Island remained shut until October of last year.

A later analysis by the U.S. Park Service found that the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island were at high risk because of their vulnerability to storms. The report warned that "the intangible cost of future damage to this international symbol of freedom and democracy is incalculable."

Other places highlighted are among the world's most iconic places, such as Venice and its lagoon, Stonehenge in the United Kingdom, Komodo National Park in Indonesia, the only place where the Komodo dragon is found, and Rapa Nui or Easter Island, Chile, famous for its enormous moai statues. Tourism is one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing economic areas, providing one in 11 jobs, the report noted.

Missing from the report was a section on damage to the Great Barrier Reef after the Australian government asked that it be removed so as not to drive away tourists, Australian and other media reported. Terry Hughes, the director of the Center for Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at the Australian Research Council, told The New York Times that it was astonishing that the reef had been excluded.

“There is an unprecedented bleaching event underway,” Hughes said. “Climate change and coral bleaching is the single biggest threat to the tourism industry, and the reef itself.”

An historic accord reached in Paris in December by 195 countries commits them to lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

"The need to act is both urgent and clear," the report said. "We must reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement while providing the financial resources, support and expertise necessary to ensure the resilience of World Heritage properties over the long term."

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