The UN has said Venice should be added to a list of endangered world heritage sites as the iconic city faces “irreversible” damage due to tourism and climate change.
UNESCO, a UN body responsible for education, science and culture, slammed Italian authorities for a “lack of strategic vision” to protect one of Italy’s most picturesque sites.
The agency said Venice was in dire straits as a result of climate change, which could cause sea level rises so severe they cause its canal-lined streets to sink.
On top of the risk of flooding, some 28 million tourists visit Venice every year, which UNESCO said led to huge infrastructure projects, high-rise buildings and human bodies that literally weigh upon the city.
UNESCO also said the high-rise buildings can “have a significant negative visual impact” and should be built far from the city centre.
A spokesperson for the Venice municipality said they will “carefully read” the proposal, which will then be discussed with the Italian government.
But one of Venice’s former mayors hit back, calling UNESCO “one of the most expensive and useless bodies on the face of the earth” in a stunning assault.
Massimo Cacciari, who was the mayor of Venice between 1993 and 2000, said UNESCO passes “judgement without knowledge” and “give opinions left and right, which we would do best to disregard”.
“They don’t give us any funding to make changes, all they do is criticise … As if Venice needed UNESCO to be a world heritage site! We need more action and fewer words,” he said.
The inclusion of Venice in the danger list was previously proposed by UNESCO two years ago, but the city avoided being added at the last minute due to emergency measures adopted by the Italian government.
One of those measures was the decision to ban large ships such as cruise ships from the San Marco Canal.
That ban is still in place, but UNESCO says it should be extended to other highly polluting boats.
UNESCO said the plan to save Venice existed on paper but was never implemented.
According to Italian newspaper la Repubblica, UNESCO experts have written several letters to the Italian government asking for updates and a timetable. The answers they received, they say, were insufficient.
UNESCO lists 55 World Heritage sites as being “in danger”, including the Old City of Jerusalem, Indonesia’s Somatra rainforests and the ancient cities of Aleppo and Damascus.
A further 204 sites are actively monitored by the agency due to the threats they face.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef narrowly avoided making it onto this year’s list, though UNESCO said the planet’s most extensive coral reef system remains under “serious threat”.