ARCS has had a long involvement in World Hertage, having written the successful nomination for the Wet Tropics of Queensland in 1987. Subsequently, we wrote the nominations for Fraser Island and the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area.
ARCS has recently appointed Alec Marr formally as Director of our International World Heritage Programme. Alec has, however, represented ARCS at several international meetings since 2012 including the World Heritage Committee meeting in St Petersburgh.
The Importance of the Natural World Heritage List
There are 193 Natural World Heritage Sites and 29 Mixed Sites (natural and cultural) on Earth. 190 countries are signatories to the World Heritage Convention — it is effectively “universal”.
All World Heritage Areas are sites judged to be of Outstanding Universal Value and meet at least one of ten rigorous selection criteria.
While not all natural areas of Outstanding Universal Value are inscribed on the World Heritage List, many of the most outstanding natural places on Earth are already on the list. Superlative examples include the Great Barrier Reef, Wet Tropics of Queensland, Gondwanan Rainforests, Tasmanian Wilderness and Fraser Island in Australia, Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Yellowstone and Grand Canyon National Parks in USA and the Volcanoes of Kamchatka in the Russian Federation.
While implementation of the World Heritage Convention is variable from country to country, generally speaking protection of World Heritage sites is better than that for other Protected Areas in the same country.
The World Heritage list is therefore considered the “flagship” for the entire global Protected Area system - they set the standard for Protected Area management around the world.
Ensuring high-level protection of World Heritage sites is critical to the future of all Protected Areas around the world.
Major Challenges for the Protection of World Heritage Sites
The elements required for proper protection of WH include:
Commitment from the state party to appropriate resourcing, legislative and management arrangements;
Capacity of the advisory bodies to provide strong, frank and fearless advice to the World Heritage Committee;
Rigorous scrutiny of management arrangements from the World Heritage Committee; and critically
Strong involvement by civil society at the local and international level to bring problems to the fore and hold governments accountable.
Evidence suggests that if any of these elements is missing World Heritage sites are damaged when commercial considerations outweigh protection.
The calibre and integrity of the World Heritage Committee is the key to upholding best practice standards for protecting World Heritage sites.
Inadequate scrutiny at both the domestic and international level has resulted in degeneration of the Committee into a comfortable “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” club, dominated by self interest and broader foreign affairs concerns. External affairs experts now lead delegations and many countries fail to include any natural and cultural experts on their delegations. Scrutiny of recent past decisions reveals worrying disregard for the basic intent of the Convention ‘to maintain sites in the same or better condition than when they were inscribed’.
SUMMARY OF HOW TO ACHIEVE CHANGE
Change is urgently needed. Strengthening engagement by civil society to ensure coordinated legal and public scrutiny of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) processes and decisions, lobbying of key Committee members and support for the advice of Advisory Bodies would dramatically improve performance of the WHC and resource extractive industries, alike. ARCS, through its International World Heritage Programme Director, Alec Marr, is working towards:
Establishment of a permanent World Heritage Network to bring consistent pressure on the UNESCO system and extractive industries to protect World Heritage sites. More
Building the strategic network of ENGOs, national governments and experts. More
Independent review of the performance of the Committee, building on the UNESCO external Audit and recommendations. More
Additional documentation and publicity regarding World Heritage threats (to complement and strengthen scrutiny by IUCN). More
Provision of consistent high quality advice and lobbying of the Committee members by ENGOs. More
Developing campaign capacity to ‘educate’ extractive industries about the adverse impact of their activities on World Heritage sites. More
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