Academic journal article Australian International Law Journal

Protecting World Heritage Sites from the Adverse Impacts of Climate Change: Obligations for States Parties to the World Heritage Convention

Academic journal article Australian International Law Journal

Protecting World Heritage Sites from the Adverse Impacts of Climate Change: Obligations for States Parties to the World Heritage Convention

Article excerpt

Through its mandate to protect and preserve places of 'outstanding universal value', the World Heritage Convention provides an unlikely yet effective tool in global efforts to mitigate climate change. The practical efficacy of the Strategy to Assist States Parties to Implement Appropriate Management Responses ('the Strategy'), which represents the World Heritage Committee's primary response to the threats posed by climate change to World Heritage sites, is undermined by its weak stance on mitigation. This paper argues that the World Heritage Convention Imposes stronger obligations on States Parties than those contained in the Strategy, including a duty on States parties to commit to 'deep cuts' in greenhouse gas emissions States Parties must engage in extensive mitigation strategies without delay.

Introduction

In recent year, the combined weight of the Stern Review on the Economics Of Climate Change (1), Al Gore's film in An Inconvenient Truth and the United Nations ('UN') Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's ('IPCC') Fourth Assessment Reports (2) have contributed to a widespread consensus on the reality and gravity of anthropogenic climate change. As a result, public and political debate has shifted from whether or not climate change is occurring, to what action needs to be taken to mitigate and manage adverse climate impacts. It is widely agreed that although some degree of climate change is inevitable as a result of historic greenhouse gas ('GHG') emissions, 'dangerous' climate change may still be prevented if global temperatures do not increase by more than an average of 2 to 3 [degrees] C. To achieve this, 'deep cuts' in GHG emissions of 60 to 80 percent less than 1990 levels will need to be achieved by 2050, with further reductions thereafter (3).

The primary mechanisms for addressing climate change at the international level are the United Nations Framework Convention On Climate Change ('UNFCCC') (4) and its Kyoto Protocol (5) which sets binding, quantitative targets for GHG emissions. However, given the obfuscation of the Kyoto Protocol by the United States, one of the highest per capita GHG emitting countries in the world, and the limitations of the Kyoto Protocol in facilitating sufficient reductions in GHG emission to prevent 'dangerous' climate change, other legal avenues for promoting greater action on climate change should be explored. Through its mandate to protect and preserve places of 'outstanding universal value', many of which re grave risk from climate change, the World Heritage Convention "'the Convention') provides one such avenue (6).

The fact that 'the impacts of climate change are affecting many World Heritage properties and are likely to affect many more, both natural and cultural, in the years ahead' was recognized by the Intergovernmental Committee for the Protection of the Cultural and natural Heritage of Outstanding Universal Value ("World Heritage Committee') at its 29 the session in 2005 (7). The primary document representing the Committee's approach to this issue is the Strategy to Assist States Parties to Implement Appropriate Management Responses ('the Strategy') (8). This article examines the efficacy of the Strategy in realising the objects of the Convention. It also considers whether the provisions of the Convention provide scope for stronger obligations on States Parties than those contained in the Strategy to mitigate climate change and thereby protect invaluable World Heritage sites.

1. Climate Change and World Heritage

The UNFCCC defines climate change as 'a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable periods of time' (9). Highly regarded sources such as the Stern Review and the IPCC confirm that climate change is occurring, is largely attributable to human activities and 'prevents very serious global risks'. …

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