Nearly half of all natural World Heritage sites are threatened by harmful industrial activities, according to a new WWF report. These sites provide vital services to people and the environment, but are at risk worldwide from activities including oil and gas exploration, mining and illegal logging.
The report, produced for WWF by Dalberg Global Development Advisors, shows how natural World Heritage sites contribute to economic and social development through the protection of the environment, but also details global failures to protect these areas of outstanding universal value.
Impacts of industrial activities
According to the study, 114 natural and mixed World Heritage sites out of 229 either have oil, gas or mining concessions overlapping them or are under threat from at least one other harmful industrial activity. At least 12 of them are in the European Union and are protected also by the EU Nature Directives.
“World Heritage sites should receive the highest levels of protection, yet we are often unable to safeguard even this important fraction of the Earth’s surface,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International. “We all agree that these are some of the most valuable and unique places on the planet, now we need to work together to let these sites provide for the well-being of people and nature.”
More than eleven million people – greater than the population of Portugal – depend on World Heritage sites for food, water, shelter and medicine, and could be negatively affected by the impacts of harmful industrial activities conducted at large-scale. The report shows that within the EU at least 12 sites are currently highly threatened by oil and gas concessions, mines, unsustainable water use, and transport infrastructures or deforestation. Among the sites are: the largest surviving area of laurel forest of Laurisilva of Madeira (Portugal); the Danube Delta; the world famous Plitvice Lakes (Croatia); the rich biodiversity of the Wadden Sea; the Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians; the unique wetland of Doñana in Spain; Sweden’s Laponian area; Bulgaria’s Pirin National Park; and some of Italy’s most beautiful sites such as the Venice Lagoon.
Europe is home to natural areas of outstanding value to the whole humanity. They are protected by European laws like the EU Birds and Habitats Directives that need to be fully respected and implemented to stop damaging industrial activities, like oil and gas drilling, deforestation or unsustainable agriculture. These unique natural sites and the rest of Europe’s protected nature belong to all of us and if sustainably and properly managed can deliver enormous benefits to local communities and businesses. said Geneviève Pons, Director at WWF European Policy Office.
Benefits of protection
World Heritage sites could play a key role for these people and communities worldwide in achieving the global sustainable development goals agreed last year by UN member states. According to the report, 90 per cent of natural World Heritage sites provide jobs and benefits that extend far beyond their boundaries.
“We need to wake up to the fact that people don’t just protect these sites, these sites protect people. Governments and businesses need to prioritize long-term value over short-term revenue and respect the status of these incredible places,” said Lambertini. “We need to turn away from harmful industrial activities and focus on sustainable alternatives that enhance World Heritage sites, their values and the benefits they provide.”
Threatened World Heritage Sites within the European Union
There are currently at least 12 UNESCO natural sites highly threatened by harmful industrial activities. All of them are also protected by the EU Birds and Habitats Directives (EU Nature Directives) and are part of the EU Natura 2000 network of protected areas (See the full list here). The current threat is a signal of lack of proper implementation of the existing legislation. WWF is currently campaigning to ensure that the current laws are maintained and effectively implemented against harmful industrial activities, like unsustainable agriculture, energy and transport infrastructures (#NatureAlert).
- Source: WWF