Sir Edmund Hillary has joined environmental campaigners and lawyers in urging the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, who are meeting in Durban, South Africa this week, to place Mount Everest on the UN endangered list because of the impacts of climate change. The 21 nation committee � including the UK - will discuss the proposal on Tuesday afternoon (12 July).

The World Heritage Convention legally requires all countries to pass the Everest (Sagarmatha) National Park intact to future generations. Campaigners argue that this will not happen unless urgent action is taken to stop the melting of the Himalayas and to prevent many glacial lakes from bursting, threatening the lives of thousands of people and destroying a unique and irreplaceable environment.

The campaign is organised by Pro Public (Friends of the Earth Nepal) and the Climate Justice Programme, and is supported by Friends of the Earth International and notable individuals including Sir David Attenborough, Sir Chris Bonington, and Reinhold Messner. The melting of Himalayan glaciers as a result of climate change has swollen Himalayan lakes, increasing the risk of catastrophic flooding.

There is wide agreement that many lakes are at risk, but a lack of adequate monitoring means that there is no realistic assessment of how close any are to bursting. Putting Everest National Park on the Danger List would mean the Committee would have to assess Nepal's glacial lakes and stabilise those most at risk. Groups are also calling for coral reefs in Belize and glaciers in Peru to be added to the danger list as a result of climate change. The climate change problems faced by Nepal, Belize and Peru are not of their own making, but are the result of greenhouse gas emissions from industrialised countries. The World Heritage Committee must make it clear that international law requires Governments around the world to reduce their countries' emissions to ensure that the world's most spectacular places remain for future generations.

Sir Edmund Hillary, who was the first man to summit Everest, with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, said: “The warming of the environment of the Himalayas has increased noticeably over the last 50 years. This has caused several and severe floods from glacial lakes and much disruption to the environment and local people. “I agree the practical idea of remedial action of draining the lakes before they get to a dangerous condition is the only way to stop disasters. Therefore I support the petition to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee lodged by Pro Public and others, requesting the inclusion of Sagarmatha National Park in the list of World Heritage in Danger as a result of climate change and for protective measures and action”.

Prakash Sharma, Director of Pro Public (Friends of the Earth Nepal) said: “Mount Everest is a powerful symbol of the natural world, not just in Nepal. If this mountain is threatened by climate change, then we know the situation is deadly serious. If we fail to act, we are failing future generations and denying them the chance to enjoy the beauty of mother earth. I urge the committee to place Sagarmatha National Park on the danger list.”

Peter Roderick, Director of the Climate Justice Programme said, “The eyes of the world will be on the Committee. We expect it to treat the petitions seriously, to danger-list these sites so that remedial measures can start immediately and to respect the legal duty to transmit World Heritage Sites to future generations.” Friends of the Earth's International climate campaigner, Catherine Pearce, said: “Climate change is the biggest threat the planet faces. We are already starting to see its deadly impacts. But unless we take urgent action the situation will become much worse. The lives and livelihoods of millions of people across the word are under threat. UNESCO must put Everest on the danger list, and nations must wake up to the threat of global warming and do far more to cut emissions”.


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.