As the G20 Summit in Hamburg wraps up to considerable media attention, I would like to spend some time reflecting on the other intergovernmental meeting currently under way, namely the 41st session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee (the body tasked with overseeing the implementation of the World Heritage Convention and managing the World Heritage List and the World List of Heritage in Danger).
This year, the Committee has addressed important dossiers, including increased logging in the Białowieża Forest, the widespread destruction of the Site of Palmyra, and the repeated coral bleaching events affecting the Great Barrier Reef. For many of the sites inscribed in the two lists, the negative human impacts are growing, and certain country policies plainly run counter to the objectives of the Convention.
At the same time, however, the World Heritage Convention remains a powerful symbol of hope, and a testament to how sites of outstanding cultural and natural value speak to the very existence of humankind on planet Earth. In particular, the new inscriptions shall remind us of the quintessential importance of the interactions between different populations, religions and cultures in shaping human civilization as we know it (the Hebron/Al Khalil Old Town in the West Bank, the Historic City of Yazd in Iran, Kulangsu island in China); of the inextinguishable interplay between nature and culture in creating unique cultural landscapes which underpin the identity of human societies (the Kujataa farming landscape in Greenland, Taputapuātea on Ra’iatea Island, the ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape between Botswana and Namibia); and of the multiple direct and indirect functions played by natural ecosystems around the world, ranging from their role as habitats of vulnerable and rare species to the irreplaceable services they provide for human well-being (the Landscapes of Dauria in Mongolia, the W-Arly-Pendjari Complex in the Sudano-Sahelian region, the Primeval Beech Forests in the Carpathians and other areas of Europe).
In times of unprecedented threats to the world’s cultural and natural heritage, the work of UNESCO truly is invaluable, and after 35 years the World Heritage Convention continues to be one of the most relevant instruments in multilateral cooperation on global public goods. This is why all parties should refrain from politicizing its work, and instead seek to strengthen its contribution to cultural diplomacy, local livelihoods, and environmental protection.
For the newly inscribed properties, see: http://whc.unesco.org/en/newproperties/.