Because I was shocked myself by the unsettling message of Alec Marr’s blog, I decided to paste the blog (with minor changes) of this environmental campaigner, consultant and former Director of The Wilderness Society, Australia, as a post in my Biodiversity News. It is exceptional and not normal procedure, but why rewrite a blog that addresses so well the issue at stake.
With 962 properties consisting of 745 cultural sites, 188 natural and 29 mixed sites, the World Heritage Convention is one of the strongest conventions, with 157 State Parties. Of the 217 natural World Heritage Sites (188 natural + 29 mixed), nearly 8% are on the List of World Heritage in Danger, 25% are affected by serious conservation issues, and the status of many of these sites is not known.
World Heritage Sites are the flagships of our global protected area system and should be the showcase of well managed, vital ecosystems. There have been many successes over the years and it is fair to say that without the World Heritage Convention, the Committee and the Advisory bodies, IUCN, ICOMOS and ICCROM, many places of outstanding universal value would have been destroyed or lost or massively compromised.
It comes as quite a shock, to many people, that there are even disputes about protecting World Heritage sites but the fact is, many of these sites have only been protected after protracted, high profile disputes.
As an NGO observer, I attended the 32nd Session of the World Heritage Committee (my ninth), held in Saint Petersburg this year. The World Heritage Committee meetings are meant to focus on the technical evaluations of inscriptions of new sites and threats to existing areas. The normal procedure is for the relevant Advisory bodies to make a recommendation for the Committee to consider and after some discussion and deliberation all or most of the recommendation is adopted by the Committee but that is not what happened in Saint Petersburg. For example, four natural World Heritage sites were kept off the Danger List despite IUCN’s recommendation that they should be on it: Lake Turkana National Parks in Kenya, Dja Faunal Reserve in Cameroon, Virgin Komi Forests in Russia, and Pitons Management Area in Saint Lucia.
Another example was the decision to cut about 40,000 hectares from the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania, to facilitate a Russian owned uranium mine in a session not chaired independently.
Credibility concerns arise and these must be taken seriously if the world’s natural heritage, critical to life and communities everywhere, are to stand a chance.
For those of us around the world who love places on the World Heritage List, this is a wake-up call and a plea to become involved in the work of rescuing the Convention, the Committee, the advisory bodies and most important of all our wonderful World Heritage Sites. They are, after all, the outstanding best that our wondrous planetary home has to offer.
World Heritage Watch will be doing everything possible to strengthen the Convention, support the work of the advisory bodies and advocate globally for World Heritage under immediate threat.
The above news item is reprinted from materials available at IUCN Blog. Minor adjustment in paragraph order has been made to the original text.
(Source: IUCN Blog, 14.11.2012)