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Governments get chance to protect world’s most important natural places


ISTANBUL - Starting today, nations from around the globe are gathering in Istanbul to make decisions that will impact the future of some of our planet’s most important natural World Heritage sites.
These sites, which include places as diverse as the Belize barrier reef and Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania, support the lives and occupations of millions of people, and provide natural habitats for critically endangered species, yet are seeing their protections erode.
Recently, a report produced for WWF by Dalberg Global Development Advisors earlier this year found that nearly half of all natural World Heritage sites are threatened by harmful industrial activities, such as oil and gas exploration, mining, large-scale infrastructure projects and industrial-scale logging or fishing.
“It has never been more important to stand-up for our shared heritage. People and places must be allowed to prosper and grow,” said Zach Abraham, WWF’s Director of Global Campaigns.
“We have a collective responsibility to protect these places, which are the shared heritage of present and future generations, and that sustain the well-being of millions of people. As countries meet in Istanbul this week they have the opportunity to help build a better future for these sites and the people that need them for their survival,” he added.
WWF has identified some key sites on the agenda for the 40th session of the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO that require urgent action. WWF is calling for:
•           the Bulgarian government to authorize the new management plan of Pirin National Park only after it is approved by UNESCO and has positive environmental assessment guaranteeing that there will be no further destruction by harmful infrastructure and skiing projects
•           the Polish government to amend or withdraw a plan that would see a three-fold increase in logging in part of the Bialowieza Forest World Heritage site, one of Europe’s last remaining primary forests and home to the vulnerable European bison;
•           the World Heritage Committee to recognize explicitly the threats to Russia’s Western Caucasus site from harmful infrastructure projects that unnecessarily jeopardize the value of this iconic area;
.•          the government of Belize to ban all offshore oil exploration, as a spill anywhere in its waters would threaten the reef World Heritage site and devastate the national economy;
•           urgent progress by Tanzania’s government to address the industrial scale actions that threaten the Selous ecosystem and the future of 150,000 people who directly depend on this site.
The committee is expected to make decisions on the Belize barrier reef and Selous Game Reserve on Tuesday, while Pirin, Bialowieza Forest and Western Caucasus are likely to reach the committee between Wednesday and Thursday.
Natural World Heritage sites cover less than 0.5 per cent of the Earth, yet are some of the most biodiverse areas of the globe. They also support the livelihoods of tens of millions of people.
WWF established five global principles that are fundamental to well managed World Heritage sites. These principles – valuation, investment decisions, governance, policymaking and enforcement – can help decision makers achieve an appropriate and equitable balance between conservation, sustainability and development and reduce the threats to our shared World Heritage.