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Canadian World Heritage Site threatened by climate change

Leeanna McLean
Digital Reporter

Thursday, May 26, 2016, 4:39 PM - From rising sea levels to extreme weather, many major tourist destinations are vulnerable to climate change. In a new report released by the United Nations Environment Program and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UNESCO), the small town of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia is one of 31 World Heritage Sites directly threatened by this global concern.

Some of these treasured places are in danger of disappearing forever unless drastic measures are taken to safeguard them, the study highlights.

"Climate change could eventually even cause some World Heritage sites to lose their status." -- Adam Markham, lead author of the report.

There are over 1,000 World Heritage sites around the world known for their "global significance and universal value to humankind" and UNESCO has designated 802 of them worthy of protection.

"Some Easter Island statues are at risk of being lost to the sea because of coastal erosion," Adam Markham, lead author of the report and deputy director of the Climate and Energy Program at USC said in a statement. "Many of the world's most important coral reefs, including in the islands of New Caledonia in the western Pacific, have suffered unprecedented coral bleaching linked to climate change this year."

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The report emphasizes the urgent need to identify sites that are most vulnerable and implement policies to increase resilience. Other needs include: making sure the threat of climate change is taken into consideration when nominating new World Heritage sites, engaging the tourism sector in efforts to protect them, educate visitors on the risks and increase global efforts to meet the Paris Agreement climate change pledges.

Lunenburg braces for climate change

Situated on Nova Scotia's South Shore, Lunenburg is located on the Fairhaven Peninsula at the western side of Mahone Bay. The fishing port is the only Canadian site listed on UNESCO's recent report.

Tourism revenue on Nova Scotia’s south coast exceeds $160 million CAD a year, with Lunenburg being one of the top destinations to visit in the province. Rising seas could put some of its coastal land underwater permanently, the report highlights. Nova Scotia was the first province in Canada to order its municipalities to develop a climate change action plan. The town of Lunenburg has had one in place since 2014.

"The fact that we are included in a list of places around the world that are negatively impacted by this and the only site in Canada, is important in that it should raise the profile of Lunenburg," Mayor Rachel Bailey told The Weather Network. "Our town is deserving of attention as far as the preservation and significance to the province, the country and the world."

Image courtesy: Harold Feiertag -- Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

One tourist attraction most at risk is the town’s Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, according to the report. The museum, which is located on the waterfront, has undergone significant maintenance and repair work in recent years. 

"We can't change that it's on the coast, on the waterline, so it's important on a global perspective that we recognize that unless all of us do what we can to mitigate climate change, we are going to lose some very valuable assets," said Mayor Bailey.

Bailey pointed out most buildings and architecture in Lunenburg are made of wood, which needs constant attention. Sea level rise coupled with storm surge eats away at the native wood and the town may have to consider using different material in the future for new infrastructure.

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"I don't think we are in any imminent danger of losing infrastructure, but we have certainly seen the evidence that it [climate change] certainly puts us at risk. We are taking the steps to try to address that."

In the last five years Lunenburg has experienced flooding and sewage water backflow. As a result, there are new regulations in place for infrastructure plans, including how big pipes have to be, the mayor added.

Bailey recalls 2012 and 2013 as years the town experienced strong storms that were felt more heavily than neighbouring communities.

"We had some flooding in areas we hadn't seen flooding before. It was due to the timing of the tide. The amount of rainfall we had was so significant in those particular storms, our infrastructure couldn't keep up, so there was a lot of backup of water," said Bailey. "They were eye-openers and were actually well-timed to be included in the research that was done in our climate change action plan."

Image courtesy: Mark Goebel -- Creative Commons

Meanwhile, Halifax is still feeling the effects of Hurricane Juan that hit in 2003. The storm brought winds of more than 145 km/h and knocked out power to 300,000 homes and businesses.

"Where our harbour enters, we were relatively fortunate compared to municipalities next door that were hit with that storm."

Although warming sea temperatures are of concern, Bailey says the town has recently benefited in that lobster has been plentiful.

"We have seen lobster in areas that were not plentiful before because of water temperatures. The ecosystem is always a concern because there are always ripple effects and I certainly don't know what's negatively impacted, but no doubt our temperatures have changed here."

Here are five other sites listed in UNESCO's report:

Yellowstone National Park, United States

Image courtesy: Amanda Bland -- Teton County, Wyoming, United States

Venice, Italy

Image courtesy: Maria Czarzasty -- Venice, Italy

Statue of Liberty, New York, United States

Image courtesy: Rose Coffey -- New York City, New York, United States

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England

Image courtesy: Jim Boate -- Wiltshire, England, United Kingdom

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Image courtesy: Paul Krawczuk -- Creative Commons

SOURCE: Report 

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