World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate


World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate

Executive Summary

Climate change is fast becoming one of the most significant risks for World Heritage sites worldwide. Unequivocal scientific evidence shows that concentrations of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere are greater now than at any time in the past 800 000 years and that global temperatures have increased by 1ºC since 1880. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), some recent changes, including warming of the oceans and atmosphere, rising sea levels and diminished snow and ice, are unprecedented over decades to millennia. As temperatures continue to rise, heat waves will worsen, extreme precipitation events will become more intense and frequent, oceans will continue to warm and acidify, and the rate of sea-level rise will increase.

At many World Heritage sites, the direct and indirect impacts of climate change may present a threat to their outstanding universal value (OUV), integrity and authenticity. Climate change is a threat multiplier, and will increase vulnerability and exacerbate other stresses including, but not limited to, pollution, conflict over resources, urbanization, habitat fragmentation, loss of intangible cultural heritage and the impacts of unplanned or poorly managed tourism.

Most World Heritage sites are tourist destinations, and some are among the most iconic places on the planet. Tourism is one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing economic sectors, responsible for 9 per cent of gross domestic product globally and providing 1 in 11 jobs. Tourism is heavily reliant on energy-intensive modes of transport including aeroplanes and automobiles. Currently contributing approximately 5 per cent of the global total, carbon emissions from tourism are predicted to more than double within 25 years.

Sustainable tourism can support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and promote the preservation of natural and cultural heritage. If unplanned, uncontrolled or poorly managed, however, tourism can have a wide range of negative consequences for World Heritage sites and their local communities.

The tourism sector itself is vulnerable to climate change. Threats include more extreme weather events, increasing insurance costs and safety concerns, water shortages, and loss and damage to assets and attractions at destinations. Continued climate-driven degradation and disruption to cultural and natural heritage at World Heritage sites will negatively affect the tourism sector, reduce the attractiveness of destinations and lessen economic opportunities for local communities.

This report and its case studies demonstrate the urgent need to better understand, monitor and address climate change threats to World Heritage sites. Policy guidance that could steer efforts already exists – including the binding Policy Document on the Impacts of Climate Change on World Heritage Properties ( adopted by the General Assembly of States Parties to the World Heritage Convention at its 16th session in 2007; sustainable tourism policy orientations that define the relationship between World Heritage and sustainable tourism, adopted by the World Heritage Committee at its 34th session in 2010 (; the ICOMOS International Cultural Tourism Charter Principles; and the 2006 Strategy to Assist States Parties to the Convention to Implement Appropriate Management Responses. Additional measures also need to be taken to increase the resilience of cultural and natural heritage, reduce the impacts of both climate change and unsustainable tourism and increase financing and resources for managing protected areas.

The report’s full suite of recommendations can be found on pages 27–32.


More information about the report:

The report (PDF):


Markham, A., Osipova, E., Lafrenz Samuels, K. and Caldas, A.
2016    World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate. United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi, Kenya and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Paris, France.