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The Death of World Heritage Sites

Though almost one-quarter of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage site has died this year, in the worst mass coral bleaching in recorded history, Australia has doggedly pursued new dirty energy projects. With governments failing to protect natural resources, it is up to the World Heritage Committee to take a stand.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – Climate change has claimed another victim. Almost one-quarter of the coral in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area – one of the world’s richest and most complex ecosystems – has died this year, in the worst mass coral bleaching in recorded history. Even in the far northern reaches of the Reef, long at a sufficient distance from human pressures like coastal development to preserve, to a large extent, coral health, a staggering 50% of the coral has died.

The above-average sea temperatures that triggered this bleaching were made 175 times more likely by climate change. As the ocean continues to absorb heat from the atmosphere, large-scale coral bleaching like that which has decimated the Great Barrier Reef – not to mention other destructive phenomena spurred by rising temperatures – is likely to become even more frequent and devastating.

The future of priceless World Heritage sites – and, indeed, our planet – depends on the immediate reduction of climate-change-inducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Yet many of the governments responsible for protecting these sites within their borders are not only failing to take strong climate action; they are actively pursuing dirty energy projects like coal mines and coal-fired power plants.

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