Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment
The death of World Heritage Sites
What are World Heritage sites?
A natural or man-made site, area, or structure recognized as being of outstanding international importance due to its cultural or physical significance and therefore deserving a special protection.
There are 1,031 World Heritage sites around the world, representing sites of “outstanding universal value” because of their importance in capturing human cultural traditions, creative genius, history or exceptional natural phenomena.
World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.
This is embodied in an international treaty called the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO in 1972.
Climate change and World Heritage sites
Marine and coastal sites are facing particular challenges due to sea level rise, ocean acidification, and increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events.
Latest victim: Great Barrier Reef’s corals- Australia
It is one of the world’s richest and most complex ecosystems.
In 2015, almost one-quarter of the coral has died. It is the worst mass coral bleaching in recorded history.
Threatening: Even in the far northern reaches of the Reef which is away from human pressures like coastal development, a staggering 50% of the coral has died.
Reason: Above-average sea temperatures.
Further impact? As the ocean continues to absorb more heat from the atmosphere, large-scale coral bleaching is likely to become even more frequent and devastating throughout the global waters.
World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate report
Report by: UNEP, UNESCO and Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)
It notes: Some 31 natural and cultural World Heritage sites in 29 countries across the world are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change
Documents: Climate impacts including increasing temperatures, melting glaciers, rising seas, intensifying weather events, worsening droughts and longer wildfire seasons. Examples: Venice, Stonehenge, the Galapagos Islands, South Africa’s Cape Floral Kingdom, the port city of Cartagena-Colombia and Shiretoko National Park in Japan
Identifying the World Heritage sites that are most vulnerable to climate change and implement policies and provide resources to increase resilience at those sites
Ensuring that the threat of climate impacts is taken into account in the nomination and listing process for new World Heritage sites
Engaging the tourism sector in efforts to manage and protect vulnerable sites in the face of climate change and educate visitors about climate threats
Increasing global efforts to meet the Paris Agreement climate change pledges in order to preserve World Heritage sites for future generations
Effect on tourism:
Climate change could eventually even cause some World Heritage Sites to lose their status.
The effects could be a blow to the tourism industry and economies of some of the countries where the World Heritage sites are found, noting that many developing countries are quite reliant on tourism revenue.
The report gave a miss to the iconic Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Sundarbans in India and Bangladesh.
Fossil fuels are the culprit
Existence: The World Heritage Site’s future depends on immediate reduction of climate-change-inducing greenhouse-gas emissions.
Government’s inaction and insensitivity: The responsible governments are failing to protect sites within their boundaries, from climate change. They are continuing to pursue polluting energy projects like coal mines and coal-fired power plants.
Inspite of such devastating effect on its corals, it continues to increase its exploitation of dirty fossil fuels.
In 2015, the Australian government has approved both the massive Carmichael coalmine and the Abbot Point terminal, located near the Reef, to facilitate the global export of output from the Carmichael mine.
It is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. Even then, the government supports a proposal to build two huge coal-fired power plants adjacent to the Sundarbans World Heritage site. India is in support of it.
They will emit large quantities of greenhouse gases, devastate the Sundarbans, where the Ganga and other rivers meet the Bay of Bengal in a spectacular delta of mangrove islands that is home to endangered Bengal tigers and river dolphins.
The power plants will pollute the waters with toxic coal ash, bring constant coal-barge traffic, and require the dredging of riverbeds.
Mercury from the smokestacks will accumulate in the marine life, permanently contaminating the food supply of hundreds of thousands of people and vulnerable wildlife.
And therefore, it needs to use renewable energy. It is already a world leader in solar energy and has significant potential of other resources like hydro energy.
World Heritage Sites as part of climate change solution
Nature based solutions
Contribute to global climate stability by storing significant amounts of carbon.
Forests found in world heritage sites across the tropical regions store 5.7 billion tons of carbon.
Two-thirds of natural sites on the UNESCO world heritage list are crucial sources of water and about half help prevent natural disasters such as floods or landslides.
In India and Bangladesh, the Sundarbans’ 2,200km mangrove coastline offers flood protection, which would otherwise require an investment of us$ 300 million in man-made infrastructure.
The large, intact landscapes play a crucial role in helping species survive climate change events by providing options such as refuge or dispersal.
A World Heritage site in Costa Rica, linking coastal areas to mountain ranges, allows plants and animals to move to higher ground in case of sea level rise or rising temperatures.
However, more attention need to be accorded to wilderness as currently the World Heritage Convention provides little or no protection to many exceptional wilderness areas. They face increased global threats, particularly from industrial activities and climate change.
World Heritage Committee
What is WHC? The World Heritage Committee establishes the sites to be listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
In 2004: WHC Invited “the World Heritage Centre, in co-operation with the States Parties, Advisory Bodies, and other international agencies and non-governmental organisations concerned by emergency interventions”
To: prepare a risk-preparedness strategy
Result:Strategy for Risk Reduction at World Heritage Properties presented and approved by the World Heritage Committee in 2007
Role of World Heritage Committee
It needs to step up as governments fail to protect the heritage and to help bring an end to the relentless exploitation of fossil fuels
It needs to make recommendations to governments for reducing fossil-fuel-related threats, identify sites that are in particular danger from such threats, and carry out monitoring missions.
This would help to educate and empower civil society and also place pressure on financial institutions to withhold the funding required for massive development projects.
Annual Meetings are ideal forums for such efforts. (40th World Heritage Committee met in Istanbul)
Request Indian, Bangladesh and Australian governments to cancel their environment polluting projects and invest in renewable energy instead.
World governments, the private sector and tourists all need to coordinate their efforts to reduce carbon emissions and to protect the world’s most treasured cultural and natural resources from the impact of tourism activities as well as other polluting developmental activities.
As the threat of climate change grows increasingly menacing, influential institutions like the WHC must take a stand against the toxic and insidious legacy of dependence on coal and other fossil fuels.
The committee shouldn’t be silent on this crucial issue so as to prevent World Heritage sites around the world from suffering.
Connecting the dots:
The World Heritage Sites are not only our pride but our responsibility and climate change is threatening their vital existence. Critically analyse the co-existence of heritage with development.
TOPIC:General Studies 3
Environment and Ecology, Bio diversity – Conservation, environmental degradation, environmental impact assessment, Environment versus Development
Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Draft water bills: Address gaps through comprehensive research agenda
Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation placed 2 Draft Bills in public domain for comments (before 2 months).
Draft National Water Framework Bill 2016 (NWFB)
Model Bill for the Conservation, Protection, Regulation and Management of Groundwater 2016
Unfortunately, till now, the Bills have not raised the public debate that they are supposed to evoke, given the fact that there are sufficient elements that deserve to be discussed and debated.
The below article briefly analyzes both the bills.
Draft National Water Framework Bill 2016 (NWFB)
The NFWB seems to be a follow-up on the action taken on The National Water Policy 2012, that talked about the “..need to evolve a National Framework Law as an umbrella law that governs the general principles and manages water needs”.
Under the framework proposed by the NWP 2012,
Water needs to be managed as a community resource by states under the public trust doctrine to achieve food security, livelihood, and equitable and sustainable development for all.
Existing Acts of various states such as the Indian Easements Act, 1882, the Irrigation Acts, etc. may have to be amended accordingly if they give proprietary rights to a land owner on groundwater under his land rather than treated as a community resource.
The NWFB has been placed in public domain at a time when the world is witnessing the emergence of a new paradigm in water management, which is continually enriched by incremental accrual of new knowledge, both disciplinary and interdisciplinary.
However, water policy formulation in India has been largely disconnected from the ongoing conceptual changes in water management.
Concerns and solutions:
There is a clear disconnect between holistic science and fragmented policy making and has resulted in the domination of a reductionist engineering paradigm to manage water without any concern to the ecological concerns.
(i.e. provisions in policy is focusing more on water management techniques that do not consider or take care of ecological concerns)
Though the policy documents related to water in South Asian nations often allude of terms like “integrated river basin management” (IRBM), “demand management”, etc. they prove to be rather decorative when it comes to concepts and project design.
(i.e. provisions in policies talk more and act less)
This disconnect is evident even in the two bills mentioned above.
First concern emerges from the fact that the two bills are separated, and hardly any linkage has been created between the two.
As such, groundwater and surface water are integral components of the global ecohydrological cycle, and need to be seen through an integrated holistic lens of water management and property rights.
Separate bills create the impression of fragmented approach to water management, as the interactivity between surface water and groundwater, which is also acknowledged in the water balance equation, seems to have been ignored.
Second, the draft NWFB suggests maintaining adherence to certain percentage of water to flow naturally.
The draft NWFB suggests for maintaining certain percentage of natural flow of water in rivers (i.e. adherence to the reductionist arithmetic hydrology) adequate to preserve and protect a river basin as a hydrological and ecological system.
However, it is highly difficult for the very science to arrive at a measure of “how much water a river needs”
It is only in India that there is an over-reliance on a specified quantitative measure on how the environmental water needs of a river.
Policy makers have failed to have an ecological scientific thinking; they should understand that no studies can tell exactly what level of natural water flow is required for maintaining certain ecosystem services.
Third, despite the reference of the “River Basin Authority” (RBA) in the NWFB, the role of the RBA seems to have been confined to creating master-plans for the basins.
As a recommended institutional set-up, there is a need for a basin-level authority which is democratic in nature, with greater powers, and which can initiate actions to prevent degradation of freshwater ecosystems and can initiate actions against all forms of stakeholders including State governments for any form of violation.
This implies that the authority should be vested with adequate regulatory powers.
Fourth, it needs to be noted that the moot point lies with the promotion of Integrated River Basin Management (IRBM).
While today’s best practices in water resources planning entail integration of water quantity and quality management for both groundwater and surface water, there remains a need for comprehensive understanding of how the natural environment and the resident population of a basin are impacted by various levels of interventions in the rivers or by adoption of new policies.
This is best done in a highly participative way, involving all the major stakeholder groups, and in a way that achieves a balance between the level of economic development and the consequent impact on the natural resource base of a river basin as agreed by the stakeholders.
This participatory and comprehensive approach is what is generally referred to as integrated river basin management (IRBM).
At a watershed/basin level, different water users co-exist and therefore any decision towards sustainable resource management will need collective action.
The NWFB needs to encourage, facilitate and promote multi-stakeholder interaction and collaboration between diverse stakeholders at the watershed, sub-basin and basin levels. This is another missing dimension from the draft.
Fifth, the draft makes very important recommendation regarding “differential” and “full cost pricing”.
This pricing instrument should be designed as not merely covering only the O&M costs (operation and maintenance costs).
The pricing should reflect the scarcity value of water not merely of its economic use, but also the scarcity value of the ecosystem services. This implies that the users may cover part of the “environmental costs” that their use of water entails.
Sixth, the composition and role of the statutory Water Regulatory Authority is not clearly defined.
It is not clear how such an authority will operate: Is it under the aegis of the river basin authority? Or should it exist as a separate structure?
Therefore, the scope for improvement in this draft remains. While forwarding this IRBM agenda, it is important that the various knowledge gaps are addressed through the creation of a comprehensive research agenda.
This will define the overarching principles for managing trade-offs between water for development and water for ecology, and trade-offs arising out of water allocations across competing sectors and sustainable abstraction limits so that the ecosystem integrity is maintained.
At an institutional level, there needs to be constant evaluation of the effectiveness of various institutions at various levels, including the river basin master plans.
Connecting the dots:
Critically comment on the provisions of Draft National Water Framework Bill 2016 (NWFB)