Distinctive dozen: Scientists identify unique Arctic features for possible future World Heritage status

IUCN brought scientific experts from around the world to Paris in February to explore possible new marine World Heritage sites in the Arctic. They reviewed the most unique and exceptional of Arctic features that could potentially merit inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Arctic WH Sites Meeting

Arctic sites are currently underrepresented on the World Heritage List; treasures found there include distinctive geological processes, iconic species and high densities of endemic biodiversity found nowhere else.

Participants also studied potential new sites that could meet the World Heritage criteria and compared them with sites that are currently listed on the tentative World Heritage List. Around a dozen sites were considered. At present, there are just two World Heritage sites in the region: Ilulissat Icefjord and Natural System of Wrangel Island Reserve. A key conclusion of the meeting centered on the intimate interaction between local communities, traditional cultures and the Arctic’s natural environment. Participants agreed that the Outstanding Universal Value of the Arctic region should be considered from both its cultural and natural perspectives. Community consultation will be the key for the success of this project.

The Arctic is home to geological features and animals found nowhere else in the world. It is also particularly vulnerable to climate change, warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. The Arctic is a sink for pollutants originating far from the region itself and the latest concern is high concentrations of microplastics that represent threat to human and ecosystem health. As sea ice retreats and the area becomes increasingly accessible to shipping and oil and gas development, the need for conservation of the area’s Outstanding Universal Values grows. Earlier work by the World Heritage Centre and International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) determined that the Arctic region is underrepresented on UNESCO’s World Heritage List (http://whc.unesco.org/document/117645).

This scientific meeting was part of an innovative multi-year project led by IUCN in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the World Heritage Centre’s Marine Programme. This project promises to deliver unique set of data which can be used by the Arctic governments to propose new World Heritage Sites in the Arctic with a view to conserving the unique Arctic places for current and future generations. IUCN has an official advisory role to the World Heritage Committee and works to enhance the role of the World Heritage Convention in protecting the planet’s biodiversity. This project was made possible through the generous support of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. The results of this meeting are expected to be launched at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawaii, September 2016.

For more information, please contact Tatiana Saksina

Work area: 
World Heritage
Polar Regions
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