When Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, Liberty Island flooded, shutting down the Statue of Liberty for over eight months. Since then, the electrical systems on the island have been raised to six meters above sea level, and the statue has been refitted with a lighting system located above ground and flood levels—but the World Heritage site remains at "high exposure" risk from rising sea levels, UNESCO warns in a new report released last week.
The report looks at 31 World Heritage properties in 29 countries, showing how climate change is (or could soon be) threatening their "outstanding universal value (OUV), integrity and authenticity, as well as the economies and communities that depend on tourism." Venice, Stonehenge, the Galápagos islands, and Easter Island are also among the sites threatened. In other words, you'd better get cracking on that tourism bucket list right about now.
"100 percent of the assets at Liberty National Monument are at 'high exposure' risk from sea-level rise due to the extremely low elevation of the island and its vulnerability to storms," the report warns. "The assets at risk on Liberty and Ellis Islands, including the Statue of Liberty itself, are valued at more than US $1.5 billion...but the intangible cost of future damage to this international symbol of freedom and democracy is incalculable."
In 2011 alone, Liberty and Ellis Islands saw 3.7 million visitors, supported 2,200 jobs, and drew in $174 million in revenue, the report notes. Sandy's damage to the sites cost $77 million, including the relocation of more than a million artifacts from Ellis Island to a climate-controlled facility in Maryland. Repairs to Liberty Island included the replacement of an 84-meter dock; 53,000 new paving blocks to rebuild the walkways; over 600 meters of granite edging; and more than 130 meters of railings.
The report underscores the Paris Agreement on climate change, which set a goal of limiting global temperature increase to below 2 degrees Celsius. However, some researchers have argued that the goal isn't enough, and that unless we more drastically reduce our emissions, the West Antarctic ice sheet will melt within the next few decades, eventually plunging NYC underwater, along with Miami, New Orleans, London, Hong Kong, and Sydney.
At the time of the report's release, it was revealed that the Australian government pressured UNESCO into removing all mentions of Australian World Heritage sites, this a time when the Great Barrier Reef is in crisis, with 93% of its reefs experiencing bleaching due to unusually warm water.
"Globally, we need to better understand, monitor, and address climate change threats to World Heritage sites," said Mechtild Rössler, the director of UNESCO's World Heritage Centre. "As the report's findings underscore, achieving the Paris Agreement's goal of limiting global temperature rise to a level well below 2 degrees Celsius is vitally important to protecting our World Heritage for current and future generations."