Iguazú, Península Valdés and Machu Picchu: threatened by climate change

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Photo: Peninsula Valdes, Argentina.Photo: Peninsula Valdes, Argentina. 

By Norberto Ovando and Adalberto D. Álvarez
Translation by Thomas Bennett-Hughes
Climate change is threatening UNESCO World Heritage sites all over the world. At the Bonn Climate Change Conference (COP23) in November, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) presented its report “IUCN World Heritage Outlook 2” where it warned about this increasing threat, calling for urgent measures to be taken as soon as possible so that areas like Iguazú National Park, Península Valdés, Machu Picchu and others don’t deteriorate and even lose their present World Heritage status. 
Iguazú National Park and Pantanal National Park in Brazil – which are home to the highest concentration of fauna - as well as Canaima National Park in Venezuela and Huascarán National Park in Peru, are among the 62 sites currently threatened by climate change. These protected areas are part of the 241 natural places that UNESCO classifies as World Heritage Sites. The number of these sites now at risk has dramatically increased only since 2014, when 35 sites were at risk out of 228.
Unsustainable tourism, overcrowding, infrastructure development (highways, construction, dams, etc.), hunting, pollution and the ineffective management of these sites are but a few of the impacts on conservation. Let’s not also forget about invasive species either, which is another widespread threat.
For example, the negative impacts caused by invasive species rose by 14 percent on protected sites all over the world over the past three years, whereas tourism impacts have increased by 10 percent since 2014.
Iguazú National Park, Península Valdés and Machu Picchu. Photo: Marta BalbiIguazú National Park, Península Valdés and Machu Picchu. Photo: Marta Balbi

Inger Andersen, director general of the IUCN, confirmed in a statement that “climate change acts quickly and affects the most beloved treasures on our planet.” Adds Andersen: “The extent and rate at which we are destroying our natural hertiage highlights the need for urgent actions and ambitious national commitments to implement the Paris Agreement.”

On the importance of their conservation, Tim Badman, director of the IUCN’s World Heritage Program, remarked that these places “play a crucial part for local livelihoods and economies, and their destruction will have devastating consequences that go beyond just their outstanding beauty and natural value.”
Governments and businesses need to prioritize the longevity of these sites, and not short-term gains, thereby respecting and preserving the status of these exceptional places.
Future generations have the right to recieve these sites in the best state of conservation and not simply as an environmental liability.
As Roberto Troya, director of the Latin American and Caribbean program of WWF, says: “Conserving the environment doesn’t limit economic opportunities, rather it allows us to build sustainibly on top of this irreplaceable capital.”
The authors, Norberto Ovando and Adalberto D. Álvarez, are president and vice-president of Asociación Amigos de los Parques Nacionales (Friends of National Parks Association) in Argentina.

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