Save the Planet

31 July 2010 | Article

Joerg Elbers is focal point for World Heritage in IUCN's Regional Office for South America. This is the first time he has taken part in the World Heritage Committee, and so far it's been an impressive experience.  

During this week I got to know a lot about the way technical issues are discussed by the Committee, and above all the prevalence of political discussions here.

One of the items dealt with during the working sessions was the relation between the World Heritage Convention and sustainable development. There was a consensus in the Committee that sustainability is a fundamental concept for World Heritage. And if you look at the nominations for natural World Heritage sites, as a State Party you have rigorous criteria to fulfil for the site to be inscribed, many of them tackling issues of sustainability, and this procedure is absolutely right.

Ok, let’s swing from a natural World Heritage site to the actual site of the 34th World Heritage Committee. You’re definitely right when you think that the criteria we take for World Heritage sites also have to apply for the World Heritage Committee. But do they?

In the hotel every room is air-conditioned, the breakfast buffet is full of little plastic boxes with butter, marmalade etc. On my estimation, during the first week we produced - in the conference room alone - at least ten thousand 300-ml-plastic bottles and probably more plastic cups for coffee and water. If you ask me is this sustainable? I can affirm it’s definitely not. We really need more integrity in our actions, it’s not enough to ask the State Parties to be rigorous in the nominations of World Heritage sites.

But when I come back tired at night to my hotel room, I can rest easy. Because everywhere I can read that I can re-use the same towels and the same sheets to save the planet.