Momentum from multinationals.

Why major businesses are acting to respect the value of World Heritage sites

By Chris Gee, Head of Campaigns, WWF-UK

Butch Bacani of UN Principles for Sustainable Insurance launching the pledge at the 42nd meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Bahrain with Dr Mechtild Rössler, Director of the UNESCO World Heritage centre and WWF.

Today WWF are celebrating the launch of the first-ever global insurance industry statement of commitment to protect the outstanding universal value of World Heritage sites. It is great to see the first 10 insurers as founding signatories including Swiss Re, Peak Re and Interamerican. They are committed to taking action via the UN Principles for Sustainable Insurance. This provides the latest evidence of serious interest and momentum across the global business and finance sectors to reduce their business risk and to protect these most valuable of places.

The discussion of Item 7[1] of the World Heritage Committee 2018 meeting demonstrated rapid momentum across a range of sectors. Since the World Heritage Committee last met in Krakow a year ago;

- 12 global banks spanning 6 different countries have shared their World Heritage policies with the UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Some banks are sharing their first public policy, such as Barclays[2], who stated they have “no appetite” to finance projects that impact WHS and expect to broaden the policy scope to include other financial transactions. Standard Chartered Bank[3] chose to adopt a policy that prohibits negative impacts from projects that could pose a risk to the value of World Heritage sites from outside the site boundaries and also chose to apply their policy across all sectors. Both banks also chose to include respect for Ramsar sites.

- World Rowing[4] became the first sports body to respond to the World Heritage Committee request for sports bodies to have policies to respect World Heritage sites. Sporting infrastructure development is currently an issue of concern in World Heritage sites such as Pirin in Bulgaria and Western Caucasus (Sochi) in Russia.

- Church of England Investors[5] clearly stated they expect extractive companies they invest in to have a ‘no go’ policy for World Heritage sites and other protected areas.

  • IPIECA, a global oil industry membership body, have recognised in their Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Atlas[6], created with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and United Nations Development Programme, the ‘no go’ position of the World Heritage Committee for extractives is “an important consideration[7]”. This progress follows previous clearer and stronger extractives’ ‘no go’ policies for World Heritage sites by Shell, Soco, Total and Tullow Oil and the International Council of Mining and Metals[8], who represent most of the largest global mining companies.

When 11 million livelihoods rely on World Heritage being protected this is a priority both for nature and for people. Over 1.5 million people have written to Prime Ministers and Presidents to ask them to act to protect World Heritage, supporting WWF’s Together, Saving Our Shared Heritage (#SaveOurHeritage) global campaign. The actions of these passionate people have helped world leaders decide to act to protect the value of World Heritage sites such as the Belize Barrier Reef, which last week was removed from UNESCO’s in danger list[9]. However, WWF and other conservation advocates understand we won’t succeed in protecting our shared natural heritage if we only fight threats site by site, one by one, when each reaches a crisis point. We want to prevent threats to people’s livelihoods and previous nature before damaging plans for harmful industrial activities gain traction and investment.

That is why WWF and our supporters have not just been advocating to governments. WWF supporters and allies have challenged oil companies and banks in private and, where our approaches have not been met by enthusiasm to take action, in public at their AGMs[10]. We are optimistic that with banks, investors and insurers all telling high risk industries, such as extractives and hydropower, that they don’t want their money used to risk the value of World Heritage sites, change will follow. Who wants to be the business executive remembered for signing off plans that would trash heritage forever?

In the next year WWF expect to see even more global companies and financiers adopting policies that better respect the value of these sites and to lodge these with the UNESCO World Heritage Centre. When fewer companies are willing to bid for harmful industrial projects that endanger World Heritage sites, the incentives for companies to propose damaging projects and for governments to issue extractives concessions overlapping these sites will evaporate.

References:

[1] http://whc.unesco.org/archive/2018/whc18-42com-7-en.pdf

[2] https://whc.unesco.org/en/news/1818

[3] https://whc.unesco.org/en/news/1829

[4] https://whc.unesco.org/en/news/1775

[5] https://whc.unesco.org/en/news/1746

[6] http://www.ipieca.org/resources/awareness-briefing/mapping-the-oil-and-gas-industry-to-the-sustainable-development-goals-an-atlas/

[7] https://whc.unesco.org/en/news/1741

[8] https://whc.unesco.org/en/extractive-industries/

[9] http://wwf.panda.org/wwf_news/press_releases/?330014/Belize-Barrier-Reef-removed-from-in-danger-list

[10] https://blogs.wwf.org.uk/blog/business-government/putting-banks-on-the-hot-seat-accountability-in-world-heritage-protection/