How Climate Change Will Destroy Our Global Heritage

The New Yorker unpacks a recent UNESCO report that examines the future impacts of climate change on World Heritage sites.

Last week, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization issued a report called “World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate.” It contains twelve case studies and eighteen snapshots of what climate change is expected to do to places that have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites. More than a thousand sites around the world have the UNESCO designation, which is awarded on the basis of “outstanding universal value,” or O.U.V., in U.N. bureaucratese; it’s something between a Michelin star and an Olympic medal, both a marketable touristic imprimatur and a reminder of both the aspirations and the limits of internationalism. And so the report, co-produced with the Union of Concerned Scientists, provides an eclectic set of postcards from our cataclysmic future.

In Venice, the rising water is “eating away at the substance of the buildings as damp spreads up the brickwork.” Statues are flaking and blistering, and mosaics in St. Mark’s Basilica are crumbling. Superstorm Sandy caused a hundred million dollars in damage to the Statue of Liberty, an experience that only highlighted its vulnerabilities. Higher and stronger waves could topple statues on Easter Island. Flash floods are expected to hit Stonehenge.

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