World Heritage and extractive industries

03 July 2012 | Article

A recently released independent report undertakes a critical evaluation of current World Heritage processes and practices in relation to extractive industries and World Heritage Sites (WHS), with recommendations for action by various stakeholders including state parties, the private sector, the World Heritage Committee.

In 2003, both ICMM and Shell formally recognized Natural World Heritage Sites as areas with significant conservation interests and undertook not to undertake activities that would damage them. Several investment banks have also made commitments not to fund projects that explore or extract non-renewable natural resources within the boundaries of World Heritage Sites.

Despite these voluntary No-Go commitments there is growing concern that the conservation goals of the World Heritage Convention in relation to the extractives industry are not being met. In addition various major extractives companies have voiced concern that their voluntary no-go commitments to WHS are being undermined by states and other companies who extract resources in these sensitive areas.

In 2011 IUCN, the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), JP Morgan Bank, Shell International and UNESCO launched the WHS and extractives project to develop recommendations for more effective implementation of the World Heritage Convention in relation to the extractive industries. An independent consultant was contracted to review experiences from the various stakeholders in relation to WHS and extractive industries, to propose ways to strengthen the World Heritage Convention in this regard; and to provide feedback on the issue to the World Heritage Committee and State Parties to the Convention.

The World Heritage and Extractives report recognizes the need for collaborative actions from various stakeholders to ensure that WHS are protected. Recommendations in the report are addressed to key stakeholders including the private sector, governments, the World Heritage Commission and IUCN:

Key recommendations include that:

  • State parties withdraw all active or inactive mineral and hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation concessions that may still be in force within the boundaries of natural World Heritage properties under their jurisdiction with appropriate compensation to concession holders where applicable
  • That Private and state-owned national and international mining and energy companies commit to not take up any exploration concessions already awarded to them within the boundaries of natural World Heritage Sites.

During its 2011 meeting the World Heritage Committee decided to develop “‘Policy Guidelines’ for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention, and recommendations contained in this report will be considered during the development of these guidelines, and will contribute to an improved outcome for WHS.

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