Satellites and World Heritage Sites, Partners to Understand Climate Change

© Cnes 2002 - Distribution Astrium Services / Spot Image

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that ‘global warming is unequivocal’ and is due largely to an increase in atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), caused by the burning of fossil fuels. From 1993 to 2003, the global mean sea level rose at a rate of about 3 mm per year. Thermal expansion of the oceans and widespread melting of land ice will result in further global sea level rise.
Reduced rainfall, higher sea and land surface temperatures, more severe storm events, ocean acidification and rising sea levels are all expected to have a significant impact on World Heritage sites.

The conservation of natural and cultural heritage may be jeopardized by climate change. Glaciers are melting, coral reefs are exposed to bleaching, and terrestrial biodiversity is being affected. Increasing sea levels threaten many cultural sites located near the coast, and other aspects of climate change are affecting ancient archaeological sites.

Space-based sensors have the capacity to measure essential climate change variables. Overall comprehensive monitoring using space technologies is made possible through collaboration among nations around the globe.
For this reason, the UNESCO’s ‘Open Initiative’ decided to mobilize its associated space partners in order to put together a series of examples showcasing how space is assessing threats to World Heritage sites.  The exhibition is mainly based on the World Heritage Centre report: Case Studies on Climate Change and World Heritage.

Financed by the Flemish Government and organized by UNESCO and its space partners, in particular Planet Action, this exhibition was designed to highlight the specific climate change challenges facing World Heritage sites. The series of 25 panels use satellite images to show the threats facing these unique places, including shrinking glaciers, coral bleaching, disappearing permafrost, desertification and floods.

As an introduction, the Exhibition shows satellite images of each continent, explaining the major climate change related threats facing each geographical area.

Through this exhibition UNESCO aims to bring space and science closer to the general public. The exhibition aims to sensitize the general public, teachers and school children to the various threats of climate change with an attractive and pedagogical style.

The exhibition was held successfully in the following cities:

Cancun, Mexico

During the 16th United Nations Climate Change Conference (November – December 2010)

San Francisco de Campeche, Mexico

(December 2010)

Ciudad del Carmen, Mexico

(January 2011)

Beijing, China

(July 2011)

UNESCO Headquarters, Paris, France

During the 187th session of the UNESCO Executive Board and the 36th Session of the General Conference (September –November 2011)

Durban, South Africa

During the 17th United Nations Climate Change Conference (November – December 2011)

Brussels, Belgium

(May - July 2012)

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