Harry Stevens is a freelance reporter covering climate change, corporate social responsibility, social enterprise, and sustainable finance. Harry has contributed to several media outlets, including Justmeans, GreenBiz, SocialEarth, and Sustainablog. You can follow Harry on Twitter: @Harry_Stevens...
Workshop Highlights Extractive Sector's Commitments to Preserve World Heritage Sites
Yesterday, at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Word Conservation Congress in Jeju, Korea, the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) held a joint workshop to explore how the extractive sector interacts with UNESCO World Heritage sites.
High on the workshop's agenda was a discussion of so-called "no-go" commitments, which prevent extractive companies from exploring or mining in World Heritage properties. All 22 member companies of the ICMM, including sector leaders like Barrick Gold, BHP Billiton, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, and Rio Tinto, have made such "no-go" commitments.
Since 1972, when the General Conference of UNESCO adopted the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, UNESCO has added 962 properties to the World Heritage List. Properties are nominated and approved based on their cultural or natural value.
When ICMM's member companies initially made "no-go" commitments in 2003, UNESCO's World Heritage Center Director Francesco Bandarin hailed the move as "a major step forward in ensuring long-term conservation" of World Heritage Sites. "UNESCO and its World Heritage Centre welcome this statement by the major mining companies," wrote Bandarin, "which we hope will significantly reduce the direct or indirect threats by mining to cultural and natural heritage all over the world."
The workshop was timed to follow the publication of an independent report [PDF] by Stephen Turner, a UK-based consultant who has worked on several projects with IUCN, that focuses on the relationship between the extractive industries and natural World Heritage properties. The report was funded by the ICMM and Shell.
While Turner's report praises the commitments by a broad group of mining companies and banks that finance extractive industry operations, it is not wholly optimistic about the long-term preservation of World Heritage sites. The report emphasizes that private sector self-regulation "cannot be a substitute for effective and consistent regulation of companies' resource use and environmental behavior by State Parties."
The report emphasizes the need for governments, especially those of developing countries, to balance economic imperatives against the need for conservation, and observes that efforts by governments in developing countries to protect World Heritage sites have been "not fully effective."
Of the 38 properties which the World Heritage Committee includes on the List of World Heritage in danger, nearly all are in the developing world. The only notable exceptions are Everglades National Park, in the United States, and the Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City, in the United Kingdom.
"Whilst the no-go commitment is a valuable tool in delivering conservation outcomes for World Heritage Sites as the World Heritage and Extractive Industries report highlights more needs to be done by various stakeholders including State Parties," remarked Rachel Asante-Owusu, Project Officer for IUCN's Business and Biodiversity Programme.
Echoing this sentiment, Pippa Howard, Director of Business and Biodiversity at Fauna & Flora International, said, "A lot of the conflict and frustration stems from a lack of clarity around how national governments interpret what is allowed and what isn't within World Heritage and Biosphere Reserve zones... We all want clear rules."
The World Conservation Congress, which began on September 6th and wraps up this Saturday, is held every four years and "aims to improve how we manage our natural environment for human, social and economic development," according to the official website.
Image credit: Forest Service - Northern Region