Expert workshop assesses vulnerability of the Wadden Sea World Heritage to climate change

The Wadden Sea World Heritage site is being affected by climate change. The extent, however, is as yet unclear. In order to evaluate the vulnerability of the Wadden Sea to climate change, international experts met in Hamburg on 10 and 11 February 2020. The purpose of the meeting was to apply an innovative rapid assessment, the Climate Vulnerability Index (CVI), that has been specifically designed to assess climate impacts on World Heritage properties. The CVI has already been applied in Shark Bay, Australia, and in the Orkney Islands, Scotland. Jon Day and Dr Scott Heron of James Cook University, Australia, co-developed the CVI and facilitated the workshop, organized by the Common Wadden Sea Secretariat (CWSS) as part of the Climate Change Adaptation Strategy of the Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation.

“Climate change is the fastest-growing global threat to the world’s natural and cultural heritage, including those listed as World Heritage”, says Dr Heron. “Climate impacts are increasingly adding to a wide range of other pressures, such as increased tourism and changing land use practices, that collectively are affecting places, people, species, ecosystems and values around the world.” The CVI process identifies the climate pressures specific to a World Heritage property and the vulnerability of the property to those pressures.

The workshop was comprised of 40 participants with diverse expertise including government agencies, nature conservation, science and administration of the three Wadden Sea countries. The group identified the three key climate stressors impacting the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), the characteristics that led to world heritage recognition. The key climate stressors, sea level rise, temperature increase and extreme heat events, were then held against selected climate scenarios to assess the Wadden Sea’s exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity against the threats. The temperature increase is highly likely, for example, to impact the Wadden Sea World Heritage’s function as breeding and resting grounds for migratory birds, who will experience a change of the food supply, among other factors.

“The CVI is a comprehensive approach to help us evaluate the situation in the Wadden Sea World Heritage”, says Dr Julia Busch, CWSS, Secretary of the trilateral Expert Group Climate Change Adaptation (EG-C). “The results of our workshop will help set priorities for climate change adaptation in the trilateral cooperation. Further, it may be integrated in the decisions of future management measures, so that we can continue to conserve the Wadden Sea also in light of future threats. With this rapid approach we have, for the first time, a joint tool for the entire property that can also be repeated when required. For instance when new climate change scenarios emerge or new scientific insights become available.”

The EG-C prepared a Climate Change Adaptation Strategy for the Wadden Sea, adopted in 2014 by Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, which set the basis for this workshop. The results of the expert meeting will feed into the implementation of the Strategy and support trilateral work to better understand and adapt to impacts of climate change to safeguard the OUV of the Wadden Sea.