UN Evaluates World Heritage Proposals from Hawaii to Tajikistan

BRASILIA, Brazil, July 27, 2010 (ENS) – Eight natural areas of outstanding global heritage value are being considered for inscription on the United Nations’ World Heritage List by a 21-nation panel now meeting in Brasilia.

In addition, two areas of mixed natural and cultural value are under consideration, including one of the largest marine protected areas on Earth – Hawaii’s Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

Irina Bokova, director-general of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, and Brazil’s Minister of Culture Joao Luiz da Silva Ferreira formally opened the 34th session of the World Heritage Committee here Sunday evening. The meeting continues through August 3.

From left: Irina Bokova, UNESCO director-general; Joao Luiz da Silva Ferreira, minister of culture; Izabella Monica Vieira Teixeira, minister of environment; Eleonora Mitrofanova, UNESCO executive board chairperson (Photo © Pedro Franca, Government of Brazil)

In her opening address, Bokova highlighted the link between heritage and the world’s major development challenges.

“I am convinced this committee can blaze new trails,” Bokova said. “Sites can be testing grounds for innovative protective measures that closely involve communities” and can be “real laboratories of sustainable development in practice.”

This is a “message that UNESCO is promoting throughout this International Year of Biodiversity,” she said.

Minister da Silva hailed the fact that “heritage is no longer treated in an isolated way” but has become an integral part of national development planning.

During this annual meeting, the committee will review the state of conservation of 147 World Heritage properties, including the 31 sites inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger and another 36 that are causing serious concern.

The In Danger List includes sites threatened by pollution, urban development, poorly managed mass tourism, wars and natural disasters, which have a negative impact on the outstanding values for which the sites were originally inscribed on the World Heritage List.

The World Heritage Committee, responsible for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention, comprises representatives of 21 countries, elected by the States Parties for four years. The current composition of the committee is: Australia, Bahrain, Barbados, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Egypt, Estonia, Ethiopia, France, Iraq, Jordan, Mali, Mexico, Nigeria, Russian Federation, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, and United Arab Emirates.

Before deciding which sites to inscribe on the World Heritage List, the committee takes recommendations on the proposals for natural sites from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and for the cultural sites from the International Council on Monuments and Sites.

Natural properties submitted for inscription to the World Heritage List:

  • Pirin National Park, Bulgaria, an extension to an existing heritage listing
  • Danxia, China – unique landforms in the foothills area of the south Yangtze River
  • Pitons, cirques and remparts of the volcanic Reunion Island, France
  • Phoenix Islands Protected Area, Kiribati
  • Dinosaur Ichnites of the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal and Spain – dinosaur footprints fossilized in rock
  • Putorana Plateau, Russia – steep mountains and deep valleys in the northern polar circle
  • Monte San Giorgio, Switzerland and Italy, an extension – fossil remains of fish and reptiles
  • Tajik National Park, Mountains of the Pamirs, Tajikistan

Mixed properties submitted for inscription to the World Heritage List for both cultural and natural values:

In addition, several of the culturally significant sites under consideration have environmental relevance such as Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands where atmospheric nuclear tests were conducted and Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

Birds abound on the island of Nihoa in Hawaii’s Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (Photo by Jerker Tamelander¬†courtesy IUCN)

Ahead of this committee meeting, a petition signed by 125,000 people around the world was presented to UNESCO in protest of the re-opening of a paper and pulp mill on the shores of Lake Baikal, a World Heritage site in the Russian Federation.

The petition was presented to UNESCO by Greenpeace and WWF, who agreed to bring it to the attention of the World Heritage Committee in Brasilia.

“The World Heritage Committee will discuss the Baikal issue at its meeting in Brasilia, and will offer recommendations and support to Russia to define the most appropriate solutions,” said UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture, Francesco Bandarin.

“We have had, in the past, proof of the Russian Government’s commitment to the conservation of World Heritage sites,” he said. “We are confident that the authorities will understand that Lake Baikal requires decisions that will effectively protect its conservation.”

Lake Baikal is the deepest, oldest and largest lake in the world, containing 20 percent of the planet’s unfrozen fresh water. Over 25 million years it has developed a rich biodioversity, including a freshwater seal. It was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1996.

A few deserts are inscribed on the World Heritage List such as the Nazca Desert in Peru. (Photo by Irene Lee)

This year the IUCN would like to highlight the conservation values of deserts, which cover one-third of the Earth’s land surface.

The IUCN “wants to raise the profile of deserts in the World Heritage arena, and encourage the use of the World Heritage Convention to ensure the long-term conservation of the most valuable desert areas,” said Tilman Jaeger, IUCN’s World Heritage Project Management Officer.

“Deserts host unique and rare fauna and flora specially adapted to extreme conditions but they are often overlooked,” says Jaeger. “For instance, few people know that the Bodele Depression in Chad is the largest source of dust on Earth delivering nutrients to the oceans and as far as the Caribbean.”

Deserts and their inhabitants suffer from a variety of threats, including climate change, exploitation of scarce water resources for mining and irrigation as well as overuse of the sparse vegetation through grazing and firewood collection. Several deserts have a history of military and weapons testing, including nuclear weapons with on-going major contamination.

IUCN will dedicate a study to deserts to be published in September.

More needs to be done to protect wildlife in British Columbia’s Flathead River Valley and adjoining areas, says a summary report issued today by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.

The report recommends development of a single conservation and wildlife management plan for the transboundary Flathead that straddles the border between the United States and Canada.

The UNESCO mission went to the Flathead last September after Sierra Club BC, Wildsight, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and eight other conservation groups petitioned the World Heritage Committee to draw attention to energy and mining threats in the Flathead, adjacent to the Waterton-Glacier World Heritage Site.

In its summary report, the committee commends British Columbia for banning mining and oil and gas development in the Flathead, and welcomes the February 2010 Memorandum of Understanding for the Flathead Basin, signed by the Canadian province of British Columbia and the U.S. state of Montana.

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