222 Natural World Heritage sites to protect

IUCN 27 Jun 13;

Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 27 June, 2013 (IUCN) – From vast deserts in Namibia and Mexico to high mountain ranges in China and Tajikistan and Mount Etna in Italy, five exceptional natural areas were added to the World Heritiage List, following IUCN’s recommendations. This brings the total number of natural places demanding the highest levels of international protection to 222. Tajik National Park is the first natural World Heritage Site in Tajikistan, and covers almost one fifth of the country.

The World Heritage Committee also approved the extension of two natural World Heritage sites in Africa, following IUCN’s advice. Lesotho’s first World Heritage site was inscribed as an extension to South Africa’s uKhahlamba Drakensberg. The new nature listings bring into the World Heritage List a total area of over 7 million hectares, an area of almost twice the size of Switzerland.

“A series of wonderful new sites have been inscribed this year, filling important gaps and strengthening the credibility of the World Heritage List, “ says Tim Badman, Director of IUCN World Heritage Programme. “The new inscriptions have clearly met the Convention’s rigorous requirements and recognise these exceptional places as flagships for best practice in global conservation.”

Earlier this week, East Rennell in the Solomon Islands was added to the List of World Heritage in Danger, following the advice of IUCN. Ongoing logging at a commercial scale and the related introduction of invasive species are threatening to have serious negative impacts on the island's ecosystem.

The protection of existing World Heritage sites should be the Convention’s highest priority, according to IUCN. Support, including the available finance, for World Heritage sites in danger should be increased significantly, the advisory body said.

“The listing of East Rennell on the List of World Heritage in Danger is a clear call to action to address impacts from controversial and damaging logging activities. We hope it will lead to strong international commitment to support this exceptionally important site” says Tim Badman, Director of IUCN World Heritage Programme. “The growing threats to World Heritage in every region of the world should be given more explicit recognition by the Committee and States Parties.”

IUCN raised its concern that a large and increasing number of natural sites around the world remain under pressure from a wide range of threats, in particular from industrial extractive activities, poaching and wildlife trafficking and large-scale infrastructure projects such as roads and hydroelectric projects.

“It is the shared responsibility of the State Party, private sector and civil society to tackle these threats“, says Cyril Kormos, Vice-Chair for World Heritage of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas. “In Virunga for example, there is a clear demand addressed to both the government and oil companies, whose activities threaten the natural values of the area, to take a principled position to support the protection of this unique World Heritage site.”

According to the report adopted by the World Heritage Committee at the meeting, oil exploration and continued unrest could lead to irreversible damage and ultimately to the possible removal of Virunga National Park from the World Heritage List.