Attenborough calls for Himalayas to get UN protection

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Environmentalists are calling on the United Nations to give the Himalayan mountains special protection status in order to monitor the impact of global warming, which has caused glaciers to melt and increased the risk of lakes flooding the area.

Environmentalists are calling on the United Nations to give the Himalayan mountains special protection status in order to monitor the impact of global warming, which has caused glaciers to melt and increased the risk of lakes flooding the area.

Many well-known mountaineers have signed the petition calling for Nepal's Sagarmatha National Park around Mount Everest to be better protected by placing it on Unesco's World Heritage Danger List. The petition will be handed in to the organisation's Paris headquarters tomorrow.

Petitioners include the veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, the mountaineer Sir Christopher Bonnington and Michael Meacher, the former Labour environment minister. Scientists have warned that mountain glaciers around the world are in retreat because of rising global temperatures. Eyewitness accounts suggest the problem in the Himalayas has caused huge glacial lakes to form which could burst at any time with devastating consequences.

Pemba Dorjee, the 26-year-old Sherpa guide who climbed Mount Everest in the fastest time ever last May, said: "Last year when Edmund Hillary came to Everest, he told me that so much snow had melted in the 50 years since he first climbed Everest. In 1953, snow and ice had reached all the way to base camp, but now it ends five miles above," he said. Peter Roderick, an international lawyer working with the Friends of the Earth, said this measure would ensure the glaciers and lakes are monitored and, if necessary, stabilised. "The World Heritage Committee must urgently investigate these sites and ensure that everything necessary is done to maintain their world heritage status to keep people safe and to pass them on intact to future generations," he said.

Under the 1972 convention on world heritage sites, Unesco can also list places it believes to be in imminent danger. Campaigners also want the coral reefs in Belize and glaciers in Peru to be included on the list.

However, of the 35 sites on its endangered list, none are directly threatened by global warming. Catherine Pearce of Friends of the Earth said: "This will be the first time the World Heritage Committee has been asked to danger list a site due to climate change."

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