JOHANNESBURG - Global warming is melting glaciers around Mount Everest, threatening the environment and local people, the first man to climb the world's tallest peak said on Monday as he called on the United Nations to act.
Sir Edmund Hillary, who reached Everest's summit with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953, said he was backing calls by pressure groups such as Friends of the Earth for the U.N. cultural body UNESCO to place the mountain on its endangered list.
"The warming of the environment of the Himalayas has increased noticeably in the last 60 years," Hillary said in a statement released as the UNESCO World Heritage Committee met in Durban, South Africa.
"This has caused several and severe floods from glacial lakes and much disruption to the environment and local people," he added. "Draining the lakes before they get to a dangerous condition is the only way to stop disasters."
The UNESCO committee on Tuesday will consider petitions for three sites environmental groups say should be ruled "endangered", forcing governments to act to protect them.
As well as Nepal's Everest National Park, campaigners say the glaciers in Huascaran National Park in the Peruvian Andes are also melting fast, while the Belize Barrier Reef is threatened by rising sea temperatures killing off coral.
Peter Roderick of the pressure group Climate Justice Programme told Reuters the World Heritage Convention required all nations to keep World Heritage Sites intact for future generations.
If the three sites were added to the list then UNESCO could move quickly to assess the problem and help address them, in the short term by draining lakes or otherwise preventing flooding but also by pressuring developed states to change policies.
"All these sites are in developing countries that did little to cause the problem in the first place," he said. "We have to address the root cause, and that means getting developed countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions."
© 2005 Reuters