African heritage sites threatened by coastal flooding and erosion as sea level rise accelerates
A global team of climate risk and heritage experts, including Dr Nicholas Simpson from the Africa Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI) at the University of Cape Town (UCT) was one of the key contributors , provided the first comprehensive assessment of the exposure of culture and natural heritage sites to extreme sea levels and erosion associated with accelerating sea level rise.
The team spent a year painstakingly identifying and mapping the physical boundaries of 284 African coastal heritage sites. They then modeled the exposure of each site to future scenarios of global warming.
They found that 56 sites (20%) are threatened by an extreme sea level event that occurs once every 100 years, including the iconic ruins of Tipasa (Algeria) and the area of archaeological sites in North Sinai. (Egypt). The paper’s authors shared, “By 2050, the number of exposed sites is expected to more than triple, reaching nearly 200 for high emissions.”
At least 151 natural sites and 40 cultural sites will be exposed to the centennial event from 2050, regardless of the warming scenario. The authors explained, “There are several countries that are expected to have all of their coastal heritage sites exposed to the extreme 100-year coastal event by the end of the century, regardless of the scenario: Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Western Sahara, Libya, Mozambique, Mauritania and Namibia.”
In the worst case, this is also true for Côte d’Ivoire, Cabo Verde, Sudan and Tanzania. They added: “This is very concerning as none of these countries currently demonstrate adequate management or adaptive capacity to anticipate or establish heritage protections commensurate with the severity of these risks.”
A co-author of the article shared: “Heritage sites on small islands are particularly at risk. For example, Aldabra Atoll, the second largest coral atoll in the world, and Kunta Kinteh Island ( Gambia) could both see much of their extent exposed by 2100 under high emission conditions, raising questions about their ability to survive in the face of climate change.”
The results underscore the importance of climate change adaptation and mitigation responses to protect and reduce the exposure of these iconic heritage sites. The authors explained: “If climate change mitigation is successful in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from a high emissions pathway to a moderate emissions pathway, by 2050 the number of highly exposed sites could be reduced by 25%. This would be a significant saving in terms of Loss and Damage due to climate change.”
The authors pointed out: “These findings help prioritize sites at risk and underscore the need for immediate protective action for African heritage sites, the design of which requires in-depth local-scale assessments of vulnerability and adaptation options. Urgent adaptation to climate change for heritage sites in Africa includes improving governance and management approaches; site-specific vulnerability assessments; exposure monitoring; and protection strategies, including ecosystem-based adaptation. »
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Material provided by University of Cape Town. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.