UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee’s annual meeting, which starts in St Petersburg on Sunday, will see a total of 36 new sites considered for inscription as natural and cultural sites, and a series of monitoring reports on the sites already listed. But if IUCN’s recommendations to add four World Heritage sites to the Danger List are accepted, 21 out of the 211 –one in ten- natural World Heritage Sites will be officially “in danger.”
“World Heritage Sites are icons of global conservation, but even these places are coming under increasing pressures,” says Tim Badman, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme. “The Convention is 40 this year, and it will need to do much more to protect its listed sites in the next ten years, and especially those that are in Danger, if the gold standard of World Heritage listing is to be retained. This fortieth anniversary year of the Convention is celebrating communities, and we consider greater benefits from World Heritage to people will be a key requirement for conservation success.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), World Heritage’s advisory body on nature, will present its expert recommendations for four new natural areas and its findings about World Heritage Sites with imminent threats to their values. IUCN recommends four natural sites for inscription: Sangha Trinational - 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. In addition, reports will be made on 56 other iconic sites, including on the issues facing Galapagos Islands, Great Barrier Reef and Serengeti. IUCN is recommending Lake Turkana National Parks in Kenya, Pitons Management Area in Saint Lucia, Virgin Komi Forests in Russia and Dja Faunal Reserve in Cameroun to be added to the Danger list.
Natural World Heritage sites in West and Central Africa face the most serious threats, mainly from mining, oil and gas exploration, poaching and armed conflicts. Iconic places such as Niokolo-Koba National Park in Senegal and Manovo-Gounda St Floris National Park in CAR are in imminent danger of losing their Outstanding Universal Value. 10 out of 16 natural and mixed (natural and cultural) sites in the region are on the Danger list.
“The need for urgent action to save what is left of these parks is evident,” says Mariam Kenza Ali, World Heritage Conservation Officer at IUCN. “In Niokolo-Koba in Senegal for example, the elephant population is almost gone, very few lions remain and the population of most of the antelopes’ species have been decimated. The situation is the same in Comoé National Park, Ivory Coast and is equally critical in many other protected areas in the region. The funding to make rescue plans work is difficult to find, and sometimes the political willingness is missing dramatically.”
Mining and oil and gas exploration within World Heritage Sites is also on the rise, according to IUCN. Such activities are already causing irreversible damage to places of unique natural value such as Virunga in DRC and Virgin Komi Forests in Russia. An independent report on World Heritage sites and the extractive industries will be launched during the World Heritage St Petersburg meeting. Its recommendations will include the establishment of a level playing field for all parties so that policies related to extractive industries are as uniform as possible, regardless of the country in which the World Heritage Site is located.
For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:
Borjana Pervan, IUCN Media Relations, m +41 79 857 4072, e firstname.lastname@example.org