The world needs to take far better care of its outstanding natural places — those designated as World Heritage sites. That’s the message from IUCN experts as they gather in St. Petersburg, Russia for the annual meeting of the World Heritage Convention starting 24 June.
Too many sites inscribed on the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List are left with little resources to manage them properly and conserve the very values they were inscribed for. Many face a barrage of threats, not least from mining and oil exploration.
This year is the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention so the spotlight is being trained on how well - or not - the Convention is doing at protecting iconic sites such as the Great Barrier Reef or the Serengeti National Park.
Looking after World Heritage sites is a shared responsibility and requires international cooperation as well as the greater involvement of local communities, says IUCN, UNESCO’s advisory body on natural sites.
“World Heritage sites represent our shared heritage, we have a collective duty to look after them for now and future generations. This means taking immediate action against growing threats, and ensuring that on-ground protection and management is working. National governments need to take greater responsibility for World Heritage listed sites, and the international community should provide additional support through the Convention,” says Tim Badman, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme.“A vital need is to extend the participation of local people in World Heritage site conservation.”
“Mining and oil exploration is causing irreparable damage to many sites,” he adds. "Oil exploration plans in Virunga National Park, home of the endangered mountain gorilla are a serious threat to the rich biodiversity of this area, and to the people who depend on the park for their livelihood.”
This year IUCN is recommending four outstanding natural places for World Heritage listing: Sangha Trinational Landscape shared between Cameroon, the Central African Republic and the Republic of Congo; Lakes of Ounianga in Chad, Chengjiang Fossil Site in China and Rock Islands Southern Lagoon in Palau.
IUCN will also be reporting back on monitoring missions it has carried out to several World Heritage Sites. It will recommend that Pitons Management Area in Saint Lucia, Virgin Komi Forests in Russia, Dja Faunal Reserve in Cameroon and Lake Turkana in Kenya be inscribed on the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger because of significant threats to their Outstanding Universal Value.
From 24 June to 6 July, we’ll be reporting live from St. Petersburg with news stories, blog posts and interviews.