Climate change is biggest risk to World Heritage sites – former UNESCO chief

Climate change is biggest risk to World Heritage sites – former UNESCO chief

The former head of UNESCO has called on the wine industry to support proposals to create a new index that can measure climate change risk in World Heritage sites, from the slopes of Douro Valley to the vineyards of Burgundy.

Climate change is the biggest risk to UNESCO World Heritage sites, yet the United Nations body needs help to research and measure its impact, according to Irina Bokova, director-general from 2009 to 2017.

Speaking at a climate change summit in Porto that was co-hosted by wine trade members, including Taylor’s Port, Bokova called for wine industry support to develop and implement a recently proposed Climate Vulnerability Index for World Heritage sites.

Wine regions feature prominently on the UNESCO World Heritage list, with Alto Douro, Bordeaux, Piedmont, Champagne, Burgundy and even the tiny Italian island of Pantelleria, off the coast of Sicily, all enjoying protected status.

This celebrates not just the wine industry ‘but a very close link between wine, climate, identity and tradition’, said Bokova.

She said the proposed climate index would help to prioritise ideas for making areas more resilient to climate change.

‘The Douro Valley can be a very good example of how this new index can be created and implemented,’ she said.

Bokova’s comments are timely given increased extreme weather events in the Douro.

Summoning up disaster movie images of desertification and destruction, Adrian Bridge, CEO of The Fladgate Partnership, reported that ‘last year the source of the river Douro dried up because the whole of 2017 had been dry…then we have had rain since the third week of February’.

This May, a flash flood and hail severely damaged Alto Douro roads, vines and terraces in the Pinhão Valley, with an estimated 80% production loss at Fladgate’s Quinta do Junco.

Related: Extreme weather becoming the new normal, warns major study

Paul Symington, CEO of Symington Family Estates (SFE), told, ‘We are facing an existential threat and, without an ambitious and rapid global response, the Douro’s viability as a wine-growing region over the coming decades is in question.’

Last year SFE formed a company-wide sustainability working group and publicly raised the controversial issue of irrigation in the Douro with the Ministry of Agriculture.

Whilst Symington agrees about securing commitments from the wine and wider business community to adapt to climate change, he added, ‘the challenge is too great to be left solely to voluntary pledges by the business community’.

A follow-up event, the Climate Change Leadership Solutions Conference, will be held in Porto in March 2019.

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