World heritage sites contribute to addressing climate change

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Island Sun Newspaper, Bonn, Germany

Lake Tengano in East Rennell. Photo Supplied

NATURAL World Heritage Sites have contributed to addressing climate change according to preliminary findings by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

IUCN’s Monitoring Officer for World Heritage Programme Ms Elena Osipova revealed this during a side event of the global climate summit currently underway in Bonn, Germany.

She said this was the first global assessment of natural world heritage sites been done by IUCN through Conservation Outlook Assessment.

The assessment are a projection of the potential for Natural World Heritage sites to conserve  its values over time which was proven to be beneficial to combating climate change especially with carbon stocks provided by forests and mangroves.

Mr Osipova said mangroves cover contains about 60 percent of carbon stock in the world and as such, mangroves in World Heritage Sites should be preserved and not destroyed.

Although IUCN did not carry out specific assessment of mangroves in the Solomon Islands where one of the world heritage sites of East Rennell Island is located, the largest raised coral atoll in the world has already been added to the List of World Heritage in Danger since 2013.

“And it’s up to the local landowners to ensure they work hard to regain their World Heritage Site,” she said.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); East Rennell was the first natural property inscribed on the World Heritage List with customary ownership and management in 1998. A prominent feature of the site is Lake Tegano, the former lagoon of the atoll, which at 15,000 hectares is the largest lake in the insular Pacific. The lake contains species found nowhere else on the planet, and is surrounded by dense and unique forest that is considered part of the sites’ Outstanding Universal Value.

“East Rennell was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2013 for threats to it Outstanding Universal Value posed by commercial logging of its forests and the uncontrolled invasion of rats. The site also suffers from over-exploitation of its marine resources of which little is known to date.”

Apart from Rennell Island, forests in Solomon Islands have the potential to contribute to regulating climate and mitigating the effects of climate change.

IUCN states that climate change mitigation roles involves absorbing and retaining carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. If forests are removed for agricultural purposes or logging, the soil organic carbon beneath may become exposed and susceptible to oxidation and contributes to the release of carbon to the atmosphere.

Principal of the Wetland Science and Coastal Management from Silverstrum Climate Associates Dr Stephen Crooks said it was important for countries with significant blue carbon ecosystems to understand the impacts of development on those carbon stocks and other associated ecosystem services.

“In 2013 the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) released guidelines to assist counties calculated and report emissions and removals associated with human impacts to wetlands.

“This report is known as the 2013 IPCC Wetland Supplement and I was a lead author for Chapter 4: Coastal Wetlands.”

Mr Crooks said the mechanism is there for the Solomon Islands to calculate and report emissions with mangrove impacts, and the benefits of remediate actions. 

“Reporting would be improved by collection of country’s specific data for trees and soils if none exists currently,” he added.

He noted that Solomon Islands are perhaps the most biodiversity and carbon rich mangrove regions of the world.

“Therefore is important to know the consequences of human impacts. Potentially, conservation of carbon stocks in mangroves and perhaps seagrasses could be a significant component of the Solomon Islands Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) should they chose to include Blue Carbon ecosystems in their report,” Crooks said.

NDCs are at the heart of the Paris Agreement and the achievement of these long-term goals. It embody efforts by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Meanwhile IUCN has released World Heritage Outlook 2 during COP23 which is a new report revealing that one in four natural World Heritage sites, including coral reefs, glaciers, and wetlands are threatened by climate change, nearly double the number from the first report in 2014.

IUCN said the number of natural World Heritage sites threatened by climate change has grown from 35 to 62 in just three years, with climate change being the fastest growing threat they face.

World Wide Fund (WWF) has worked closely with IUCN, through our Together, Saving our Shared Heritage campaign, to help protect these sites from climate change as well as harmful industrial activities.