Day Nine - Life just beginning?

29 June 2011 | Blogs

So the 35th Session of the World Heritage Committee draws to an end at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, writes Tim Badman, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme.

This month IUCN's online debate asked whether life was beginning or a crisis looming for the World Heritage Convention. After the Committee, life is beginning for four great new natural World Heritage Sites in Australia, Jordan, Japan and Kenya. We saw mostly good decisions to support conservation actions; the challenge always remains to put them into action. New additions to the List of World Heritage in Danger in Indonesia and Honduras were important, and need strong follow-up support.

Other highs were the voice of indigenous people being heard. The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues made a positive and powerful intervention, calling for cooperation. The traditional owners of Koongarra asked for their lands to be included in the Kakadu National Park, Australia, and spoke from the heart when this was agreed. It was also excellent to hear the voice of NGOs in the debates. Thanks to Greenpeace Russia, Birdlife and Fauna and Flora International for being here to make important points, including regarding the Serengeti and Rainforests in Sumatra.

But I think most observers would conclude that this year has tipped the Convention further towards crisis. An increased trend for the Committee to not agree with the technical evaluations of nominations has continued, notably for the cultural nominations, where many inscriptions were against the advice of our sister advisory body ICOMOS. An extension to include forests in Germany in an existing site was the one parallel example for IUCN.

Behind this are some evident pressures on the Convention. Two seem particularly important: one being the continued imbalance of the World Heritage List, dominated by European cultural sites but with growing demands from all regions to have equivalent recognition.

The other concerns the requirements of the Convention’s Operational Guidelines. These require that for a site to be listed, it not only should meet World Heritage criteria, but also requirements for integrity, protection and management. Some sites that were not recommended were inscribed with an apparent view that it would be World Heritage listing that would lead to the appropriate conservation. A reasonable point of view, perhaps, but this is not what the Operational Guidelines say. Challenges we will see discussed further in the next year, and good points for next years’s IUCN debate on World Heritage, perhaps!

It has been hot and humid in Paris. Thailand’s dramatic announcement that they would renounce the Convention was the most memorable shock wave in the conference hall, as thunderstorms loomed over Paris.

I am looking forward to holidays now, and in closing the IUCN blog the last word is thanks to a really superb IUCN delegation here, and all the supporters in the Union that help us prepare for and perform at the World Heritage Committee.

Thanks to everyone, and here is to next year … June in St Petersburg … World Heritage at 40 ...