At the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention, IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) is warning of the growing threats faced by many existing World Heritage sites and is calling for stronger measures to guarantee their future.
Despite considerable successes over the last four decades, the Convention cannot afford to rest on its laurels, according to IUCN, the World Heritage advisory body on nature. For the decade to come, IUCN is calling for increased resources to protect World Heritage sites and to fill the gaps on the prestigious list by applying the gold standard of World Heritage listing.
“Too many World Heritage sites are left with few resources to ensure their proper management, risking their role as natural flagships for the protection of critical habitats and unique wildlife vital to the future of our planet,” says Tim Badman, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme. “Many face a barrage of challenges, not least from mining and oil exploration.”
In addition, IUCN says the Convention must remain an effective mechanism for conserving places of natural wonder and uphold its high standards. In what was considered a retrograde step, none of the four sites that IUCN recommended for inclusion on the Danger list at this year’s World Heritage meeting were accepted by the UNESCO Committee that governs the Convention. Inscription on the Danger list is not a black mark for countries, but a way of drawing attention and providing support to sites at critical risk of losing the wildlife and landscapes for which they first gained global recognition.
“The success of World Heritage has been the way it has recognized exceptional places and focused international attention on their protection,” says Badman. “But there are worrying signs that the Convention could become less effective if it does not uphold its standards and it will need decisive action to remain relevant to the growing conservation needs of the 21st century.”
Nearly 8% of the 217 natural World Heritage Sites are on the World Heritage Danger List, while 25% are affected by serious conservation issues and the status of many other sites is not known. Over 60% of West and Central African sites are on the Danger list, and one in four of these iconic areas are threatened by planned mining, oil and gas projects. This includes Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, home of the world’s last mountain gorillas.
The IUCN was instrumental in creating the World Heritage Convention in 1972 and has a unique advisory role in supporting the Convention in achieving conservation results. Natural heritage sites are recognized as among the world’s most precious environments. There are 217 of them in total, protecting more than 250 million hectares of land and sea in over 90 countries.