Even with just a further 3C of warming – well within the range to which the UN climate science panel expects temperatures to rise by the end of the century – nearly one-fifth of the planet’s 720 world heritage sites will affected as ice sheets melt and warming oceans expand.
The study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, looked at how many Unesco sites would be threatened after 2000 years of rising sea levels, but the authors said the first impacts would “definitely” be felt much sooner without action on flood defences.
“It’s relatively safe to say that we will see the first impacts at these sites in the 21st century,” lead author Professor Ben Marzeion, of the University of Innsbruck in Austria, told the Guardian.
“Typically when people talk about climate change it’s about the economic or environmental consequences, how much it’s going to cost. We wanted to take a look at the cultural implications.”