Climate change might dampen Lady Liberty’s glow, according to experts.
The United Nations released a report Thursday saying 31 natural and cultural World Heritage sites in 29 countries are vulnerable to the effects of climate change: rising temperatures, rising sea levels, intensifying storms, longer droughts and so on.
“World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate” outlines how these consequences of climate change could damage or destroy the Statue of Liberty in the U.S., the Shiretoko peninsula in Japan, Stonehenge in the U.K., and many others.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) worked on the project with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
“Globally, we need to better understand, monitor and address climate change threats to World Heritage sites,” Mechtild Rössler, director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, said in a news release. “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.”
In October 2012, New York City weathered Hurricane Sandy — a “superstorm” unlike any it had seen before. As the report notes, more than 75 percent of Liberty Island in New York Harbor was flooded, causing extensive damage to the island’s infrastructure, and forcing it to close for nine months.
Rebecca Beavers, the acting climate change adaptation coordinator for the National Park Service (NPS), said that after Sandy the organization made a concerted effort to look at the vulnerability of park assets: docks, walkways, visitor’s centers, museum collections, and so on.
“We had discussions with natural resource specialists, mechanical engineers, and sustainability officers to look at new ways to approach Park Service infrastructure,” Beavers said to Yahoo News.
NPS conducted a vulnerability analysis of Liberty Island in 2015 and concluded that 100 percent of the island is at high-risk to rising sea levels, given its low elevation.
According to the UN report, the contents of Liberty and Ellis islands, including Lady Liberty herself, are valued at more than $1.5 billion, “but the intangible cost of future damage to this international symbol of freedom and democracy is incalculable.”
“As solid and invulnerable as the Statue of Liberty itself seems, the World Heritage site is actually at considerable risk from some of the impacts of climate change — especially sea-level rise, increased intensity of storms and storm surges,” the researchers wrote.
Beavers said the Statue of Liberty is a “robust monument” and NPS will do everything it can to help visitors see it up-close well into the future. Though, she noted, certain features that help tourists reach Liberty Island, such as the docks, might need to be replaced in the aftermath of a storm.
“We do want to maintain access,” she said, “and we will have to think in new and innovative ways to do that. With our ingenuity, I do think we have the ability to do that.”