WWF have this week released a report which indicates that nearly half of all natural and mixed World Heritage sites are threatened by harmful industrial activities. These hugely valuable sites, which protect fragile environments and provide vital resources to millions of people, are at risk worldwide from threats ranging from oil and gas exploration to mining and illegal logging.
The report produced for WWF shows how natural World Heritage sites contribute to economic and social development, but also how there are major failings in the steps being taken to ensure their protection.
According to the study, half of all natural and mixed World Heritage sites have oil, gas or mining concessions overlapping them, or are under threat from at least one other harmful activity. The report also shows that over 20 per cent of natural World Heritage sites face threats from multiple harmful industrial activities.
“World Heritage sites cover approximately 0.5 per cent of the Earth’s surface and include some of the most valuable and unique places on the planet. Yet even this small fraction of our planet isn’t receiving the protection it deserves.” said David Nussbaum, CEO of WWF-UK.
World Heritage sites could help to play a key role in achieving global sustainable development goals.
According to the report, 90 per cent of natural World Heritage sites provide jobs and benefits that extend far beyond their boundaries – more than eleven million people depend on World Heritage sites for food, water, shelter and medicine, and could be negatively affected by the impacts of harmful, large-scale, industrial activities.
In one example given in the report, the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System is shown to be at risk from unsustainable coastal construction, large-scale mangrove clearance, harmful agricultural run-off and – as if all that wasn’t enough – the potential for dangerous oil exploration. Aside from vast environmental destruction, these threats also put the well-being of 190,000 people – half of Belize’s population – at risk.
Now, the WWF is calling on national governments to ensure that no harmful industrial activities are permitted in World Heritage sites or in areas that could negatively affect them, and to hold multinational enterprises headquartered or operating in their territories to the highest standards of corporate accountability and stewardship.
WWF are asking people to email the Prime Minister of Belize, asking him to ban drilling for oil anywhere that would put the Belize Barrier Reef – the second largest reef system in the world and the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere – at risk. Email him here!