June 28, 2017

350.org calls on UNESCO to prioritise Culture over Coal

PARIS — In less than a week, delegates from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will travel to Krakow, Poland, for a meeting of the World Heritage Committee on July 2 to 12, to discuss how to protect the world’s most precious natural wonders and cultural treasures. Activists gathered outside UNESCO headquarters today to shine a light on the Heritage Sites around the world threatened by coal development. They ask that UNESCO step up to be a leader on climate change, by specifically stopping coal developments from ruining Heritage Sites and by calling for governments around the world to fulfil the Paris Agreement. Communities are also calling for many of these sites to be included in the Endangered list. (Footnote 1)

Climate activists from 350.org created a sombre tableau in front of UNESCO headquarters in Paris today. 10 activists, dressed in black to represent the grim future of whole ecosystems and communities at risk from coal, displayed a banner reading “Protect Culture, Not Coal” and built symbolic charcoal cairns, or stone-made tumulus, used in mountains to help lost travellers find their way back. The petitions were received by Ms Mechtild Rossler, Director of the World Heritage Centre on behalf of UNESCO, with an acknowledgement of the important role played by civil society in raising awareness of these issues. Ms Rossler also confirmed that UNESCO has already recommended that the Sundarbans be placed on the Endangered list.

UNESCO is charged with protecting the culture and natural heritage of our world — places like the Great Barrier Reef in Australia; countless sites in Turkey, like the Hecate temple in Lagina (Yatağan), and the ancient port city of Kyme; the Sundarbans mangrove forest in Bangladesh; or Lamu Island in Kenya, the site of 700 years of cultural exchange. But many of these special places are currently at high risk of being damaged or destroyed by fossil fuel projects – either through the impacts of steadily worsening climate change, or even more directly, as huge new coal projects are planned for the areas around these Heritage Sites. Over 51,000 supporters have signed a 350.org petition, delivered by activists to UNESCO headquarters today, in support of UNESCO’s efforts to preserve these places of Outstanding Universal Value. (Footnote 2)

“The fossil fuel industry would like to keep the ugliness of coal out of sight and out of mind,” said Nicolas Haeringer, 350.org campaigner. “No matter how hard they try, though, the impact of destructive fossil fuels simply cannot be ignored. We’re here to make these threats from coal more visible, and remind UNESCO delegates that they hold the hopes of thousands of people from around the world, that these uniquely valuable sites will be kept safe for future generations.”

350.org is urging UNESCO officials to show leadership in standing up to fossil fuel developments that drive catastrophic climate change and compromise our global heritage. UNESCO is in the process of developing ‘Ethical principles in relation to climate change’, currently in draft form, due to be finalised at the General Conference in November 2017.

“Coal has played a big role in mankind’s history on earth, for better and for worse. If we want to leave future generations a planet worth inhabiting, need to keep it in the ground. Otherwise the only heritage we will leave to future generation will be coal ore, wrecked climate, destroyed landscapes and communities,” concluded Haeringer, “We would like UNESCO to use their influence with national governments to stop all fossil fuel extraction that threatens World Heritage Sites directly; and to call for governments to keep their commitments under the Paris Agreement, in order to mitigate global warming that adversely affects these sites.”

Contact: Nicolas Haeringer, 350.org Campaigner +33650861259 nicolas@350.org

Notes to Editors:

  1. Some of the Heritage Sites facing the biggest threats from coal and climate change are listed below; high quality visuals from each of these are available upon request:
    • Sundarbans Forest: The government of Bangladesh is trying to build the Rampal coal plant in the middle of the Sundarbans Forest, which supports endangered species, a quiet way of life for fishing communities, and typhoon protection for the whole country. Coal ash and boat traffic would upend the ecosystem keeping this World Heritage Site alive. For more information on the campaign to save the Sundarbans, please contact: Sharif Jamil of the Bangladesh Environment Network Email: jamilenv@gmail.com Phone: +8801715440413
    • Lamu Island: For 700 years, Swahili, Arabic, Indian and European cultures have lived together in the Old Town of Lamu, Kenya. Now the Kenyan government, together with Amu Power Company, have approved Lamu Coal Project, Kenya’s first coal fired power plant. The expansive new coal project  will have profound negative impacts on the small village of Kwasasi, forever altering the marine ecology of Lamu. For more information on the Save Lamu Campaign, please contact:  Omar Mohamed Elmawi National Liaison Officer Save Lamu +254(0)710343432 ; omar@savelamu.org  
    • Australia’s Great Barrier Reef: Up to 50% of the reef has died from the effects of warming ocean temperatures in an unprecedented second year of bleaching that has impacted two thirds of the reef overall. The Australian Government has approved the world’s largest  coal mine — the Adani mine in Queensland — that would see coal shipped through the reef,  putting  even greater risk on the Reef from coal dust, dredging and potential shipping accidents. For more information on the threats to the Great Barrier Reef, please contact Blair Palese, CEO 350.org Australia blair@350.org 0414659511
    • Turkey: Countless ancient places are at risk in Turkey. Among these are the Hecate temple in Lagina (Yatağan), the ancient port city of Kyme, and the Byzantine fortress of Pegae. Many more could be threatened if Turkey pursues its plan to build even more coal plants. For more information, please contact Cansin cansin@350.org +905325479043
  2. Link to 350.org petitions – https://350.org/unesco-protect-culture-not-coal/ and  http://act.350.org/sign/unesco-stop-coal-plant-save-sundarbans
  3. For more information about the UNESCO meeting in Krakow, Poland http://whc.unesco.org/en/sessions/41com/
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