WWF: Natural World Heritage Sites Are Under Threat

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – Alarmingly, our planet’s resources are becoming ever scarcer. Key places that should be protected are coming under threat from harmful industrial activities. Protecting People through Nature: NaturalWorld Heritage Sites as Drivers of Sustainable Development,a new report commissioned by World Wildlife Fund (WWF), reveals the dangers facing natural World Heritage sites and the risks to the people whose livelihoods and well-being are connected to these places. Whether living inside or around a natural World Heritage site, families depend on them for homes, jobs and essential resources like water, food and fuel. The entire world benefits from these sites through essential ecosystem services including climate regulation and flood prevention.

The report produced by Dalberg Global Development Advisors describes areas of opportunity for how the globe’s most valuable ecosystems can support people and nature. The WWF establishes five global principles: valuation, investment decisions, governance, policymaking and enforcement. These principles can help decision makers achieve a positive balance between conservation, sustainability and development, reducing the threats to our shared World Heritage. At least 11 million people depend on these areas and are threatened by the impacts of harmful industrial activities. Two-thirds of natural World Heritage sites are important for the provision of water; over half of these sites provide soil stabilisation, flood prevention and carbon sequestration services; and an estimated 10.5 billion tons of carbon is contained within World Heritage forest sites.

Harmful industrial activities compromise the ability of World Heritage sites to provide economic, social and environmental benefits. The report identifies these activities: oil and gas exploration and extraction, illegal logging, mining and extraction, overfishing, and unsustainable water use. Infrastructures such as highways, pipelines and transmission cables, can also threaten these sites. There are 197 natural World Heritage sites and 32 mixed World Heritage sites worldwide; over 20 per cent of these sites, 46 properties are facing threats from multiple harmful industrial activities.

The problem is that while some companies have committed not to explore or mine in World Heritage sites, the majority of oil, gas and mining companies have not made such a pledge. Moreover, some governments are continuing to sell exploration rights within World Heritage sites, or have passed legislation that overrides policies in order to permit extractive activities. In one striking example of a site under threat, the report flags up the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, which was added to the ‘List of World Heritage In Danger’ in 2009 because it was facing destruction from offshore oil drilling and coastal construction. These threats put the well-being of 190,000 people – half of Belize's population – at risk.

We need to wake up to the fact that people don’t just protect these sites, they protect people, playing a key role for communities worldwide in achieving the global sustainable development goals agreed last year by UN member states. About 90 per cent of these places provide jobs and benefits that extend far beyond their boundaries. Economic common sense should guide policy about protecting these resources. 

Photo Credit: WWF on 3BL Media