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29 Jun, 2012

Stay Out of World Heritage Sites, Global Mining, Energy Giants Warned

26 June 2012 — The global rush for energy and minerals is likely to tempt many multinational corporations to venture into World Heritage Sites, and a report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) warns that they do so at the risk of their reputations and public image.

The report, the result of a joint project by IUCN, the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), JP Morgan Bank, Shell International and UNESCO, “is intended to inform a wider range of stakeholders about the issues, challenges and opportunities arising from the tension and potential interdependence between the economic imperatives of mineral and hydrocarbon extraction and the conservation imperatives of preserving the world’s natural heritage.”

ICMM and Shell funded what is described as an “independent review” published response to growing concerns over the rapidly increasing number of World Heritage Sites threatened by planned mining or oil and gas projects.

The report claims that Shell, JP Morgan, as well as ICMM, which brings together many of the world’s major mining companies, “have recognized the importance of conserving World Heritage Sites and have committed not to undertake activities that would damage them.

“However, a number of countries and companies still profit from resource exploration in these sensitive areas. Threats to natural World Heritage sites from mining activities are growing, especially in Africa, where one out of four iconic natural areas is negatively affected.

“These exceptional places, which cover less than 1 % of the Earth’s surface, have been included on the World Heritage List because they are of outstanding value to all of humanity. It’s the duty of every one of us to cooperate in their protection and conservation,” says Tim Badman, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme.

The case studies covered: 1. Alejandro de Humboldt National Park, Cuba; 2. Arabian Oryx Sanctuary, Oman; 3. Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape, South Africa; 4. Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve (Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea); 5. Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo; 6. Wadden Sea (Germany and the Netherlands) and 7. Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park (Canada and the United States of America).

Says the report, “Responsible behaviour with regard to World Heritage Sites creates a significant opportunity for the private sector. Some ICMM members feel that the 2003 no-go commitment was a significant step in building a more positive environmental image for their companies and their industry.

“While public criticism of their performance may in some instances still be harsh and, from the companies’ perspective, costly, a more committed stance on issues like the preservation of natural World Heritage properties’ Outstanding Universal Value creates the opportunity for firms to build a better profile. In the 21st century, a positive environmental profile is an increasingly valuable asset for the private sector.”

Key recommendations include that:

(+) State parties withdraw all active or inactive mineral and hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation concessions that may still be in force within the boundaries of natural World Heritage properties under their jurisdiction

(+) That Private and state-owned national and international mining and energy companies commit to not take up any exploration or exploitation concessions already awarded to them within the boundaries of natural World Heritage Sites.

The report also affirms that the World Heritage Committee will not inscribe a natural property of which any part is subject to active or inactive mineral or hydrocarbon exploration or exploitation concessions or permits and requests that the World Heritage Centre and IUCN work with UNEP-WCMC to develop comprehensive and publicly accessible mapping of the buffer zones of natural World Heritage properties, as well as the sites on State Parties’ Tentative Lists.

A sample of quotes from the report:

(+) All stakeholders should recognise that the function of World Heritage Sites is the conservation of globally recognised Outstanding Universal Value, and not the generation of economic benefits. At the same time, while from some perspectives this implies trade-offs and opportunity costs, natural World Heritage Sites may contribute economically significant ecosystem services.

(+) Mining and energy companies’ ability to fund substantial environmental programmes in the vicinity of their operations should not be viewed as adequate recompense for negative impacts on natural World Heritage properties. Nor are offsets an admissible strategy to compensate for such impacts. Nevertheless, the extractive industries should not automatically be seen as a threat to these properties. Instead, there may be opportunities, within broader planning and management frameworks, to identify mutually beneficial strategies for company support to environmental initiatives and capacity development that directly or indirectly benefit them. In the 21st century, a positive environmental profile is an increasingly valuable asset for the private sector.

(+) Recommendations to State Parties focus on stronger governance of the extractive industries and their environmental impacts, ensuring that all existing exploration or exploitation concessions in natural World Heritage properties are withdrawn, with appropriate compensation where applicable; that no new ones are granted within them, nor any beyond their boundaries that could negatively affect them; that all stakeholders, including relevant private and state-owned mining and energy interests, are thoroughly consulted when nominations for new inscriptions on the World Heritage List are prepared.

(+) Recommendations to the private sector urge those mineral and energy companies and banks that have not already done so to commit clearly not to operate or fund operations in natural World Heritage Sites or to undertake any activities that could negatively affect them.

(+) It is in the nature of the private sector that self-regulation is unlikely to be an adequate means of controlling its impact on the environment. Firms that comply will fear that others may not. Civil society may be distrustful of the motives or effectiveness of such measures. They are not necessary if governance by local, state or international authorities regulates the private sector efficiently and effectively.

(+) The challenge for any State Party is to balance its economic and conservation imperatives. This challenge is not restricted to low income countries. Even OECD members are confronted with these issues. In some African countries, there is a significant current of opinion arguing that the conservation of World Heritage sites cannot be allowed to obstruct economic development and poverty alleviation. This is a variant of the view, periodically expressed around the world throughout the history of the Convention, that the responsibility to maintain World Heritage properties is somehow an unfair or undemocratic imposition by an external, United Nations agency on domestic jurisdiction and priorities (Affolder, 2007).

(+) Although the overall economic benefits of World Heritage tourism may not match those of the extractive industries, governments do have the opportunity to create a significant economic stimulus by maintaining the OUV of their natural World Heritage properties – and should do more to understand and acknowledge the economic value of the ecosystem services they may provide.

The full report can be downloaded free here.