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Experts Warn Climate Change Threatens Heritage Sites

Experts at the United Nations' Climate Change conference in Kenya's capital have warned Tuesday that cultural and natural heritage sites in Africa and other parts of the world could be damaged or destroyed if climate change continues unabated.

Cultural and natural heritage sites range from coral reefs, mountains and game parks to archeological ruins, concert halls and theaters.

A report released Tuesday by the Stockholm Environment Institute and the United Nations warns that drought, rising sea levels and other effects of global warming could seriously harm or destroy those sites.

The executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, Achim Steiner, tells how climate change could affect the Cape Floral Region World Heritage Site in South Africa.

"We find there the largest number of indigenous species that are found anywhere on the planet," he said. "Any change in either temperatures or variations in rainfall will fundamentally affect the biodiversity of that Cape Floral kingdom, meaning a loss of species forever on the planet."

The report's co-author, a director with the Stockholm Environment Institute, Tom Downing, describes to VOA how world-famous ancient monuments in Alexandria, Egypt, are being threatened by coastal erosion and the inundation of the Nile Delta region, two events linked with global warming.

"With sea level rise, you have an added threat not only of inundation but also the salt water intrusion getting into the foundations of these ancient buildings," said Downing. "It's salty water, so it's a weak acid, and if it's based on anything that has a limestone base, it will just eat it up. Not only does it destabilize the ground so that it's softer and things move around, but the chemistry is dangerous to buildings."

Steiner said rising sea levels will also damage buildings in the historic coastal town of Lamu in Kenya, and warmer temperatures are reducing the amount of snow on Mount Kenya.

The report gives examples of destruction in all parts of the world. For instance, flooding in the Czech Republic in 2002 and other countries across Europe damaged concert halls, theatres, museums and libraries.

In northeastern Thailand, floods damaged the 600-year-old ruins of Sukothai and the ruins of Ayutthaya, which served as the capital from the 14th to the 18th centuries.

In Herschel Island, Canada, deterioration of the permafrost, linked to global warming, is leading to "ground slumping," affecting many of the historic graves and other sites.

The effect of climate change on world heritage sites is one of many topics on the agenda of this year's Climate Change conference being held in Nairobi.

Some 6,000 conference participants are looking at the effect that carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and other so-called greenhouse gasses are having on the planet and ways to cut down on those harmful emissions.

The conference ends November 17.