Capturing the essence of natural World Heritage: Q&A with Elena Osipova

04 September 2014 | Interview

 Young professional Elena Osipova, World Heritage Monitoring Officer at IUCN, talks about the World Heritage Outlook, one of IUCN’s latest and most exciting innovations. The new system provides for the first time assessments of all 228 natural World Heritage sites and their potential to maintain value over time. After launching the user-friendly worldheritageoutlook.iucn.org this summer in Doha at the 38th World Heritage Committee meeting, IUCN will present a report with global and regional results at the World Parks Congress in Sydney next November.

Why should people use the World Heritage Outlook?
The IUCN World Heritage Outlook captures the essence of natural World Heritage. It shows us where natural World Heritage stands today and what we need to do to give it a brighter outlook. We hope it will bring together the expertise that can lead the way for nature conservation all over the world. It can be used by a wide range of people and stakeholders in their everyday work, to develop projects for World Heritage sites and to draw attention to these sites.

Already people seem to see its potential as a tool that will support their work and new ideas on its application are starting to emerge. The website is brand new – we are currently finalizing the assessments and will present global and regional results at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney next November.

What is most challenging in putting all these assessments together?

There are two main challenges. For some sites, there is really a lot of information and comments from stakeholders. The challenge is putting it all together in a relatively compact assessment, including inputs from publications, articles, comments and drafts. That’s a lot of work.

On the other hand, for some sites there is a lack of information, with few or no scientific articles available or very few people working in the site. In these cases, the challenge is finding sources to get reliable data.

And how do you go about identifying the people you need to talk to, to find out about those sites?
This is one of the strengths of IUCN as a union of so many organizations and individuals that are members of IUCN or of its Commissions. For this project, we worked particularly close to the World Commission on Protected Areas. We have a really large network of experts who live around the world, and that allows us to get to those who know the natural World Heritage sites and those who work there.  

What did people ask you about when you launched the new website, worldheritageoutlook.iucn.org, in Doha?

Firstly, people wanted to know how the World Heritage Outlook relates to IUCN’s work as the Advisory Body on natural World Heritage and to other monitoring processes like ‘periodic reporting’ (i.e. reports prepared by States parties every six years). The second big topic was on process, for example, how we prepare the assessments and how we deal with new information. 

So what are your answers to these questions?

The IUCN World Heritage Outlook is different from our Advisory Body role and doesn’t replace any of the monitoring under the World Heritage Convention; at the same time, it complements that work by assessing all natural sites and recognizing well-managed sites.

Our big point is that this is a dynamic process and we want to keep improving the assessments. We are open to any feedback at any time and if there is new information that people would like to share with us, they should do that and we are always happy to review the information – any publications, comments and suggestions. It will remain IUCN’s responsibility to make changes to assessments through a careful review process to check facts and take on board this new information.  The IUCN World Heritage Outlook will be a live system with a lot of interactions with different stakeholders.

What has been most rewarding about this work for you?

I got a lot of positive responses from people – NGOs, researchers and site managers – who are delighted that we are putting these assessments together, as they would not have the resources to do it themselves. In some countries, the IUCN World Heritage Outlook will help people’s everyday work in very concrete ways and knowing that we are making such a difference is a big reward.