The Guardian recently reported on a WWF study which identified half of the World Heritage listing as being under threat from mining, industrial development and other forces (see the article here).
David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK, is reported as saying: “Even this small fraction of our planet is not receiving the protection it deserves. These areas contribute to our economies through tourism and natural resources, providing livelihoods for millions of people, while also supporting some of the planet’s most valuable ecosystems.”
World Heritage is, to my mind, an important indicator of where things are going. These are areas which have been identified as being of global importance, and when they have been listed, there becomes a global responsibility for their protection.
However, these are obviously contested spaces, and the article looks at some of these as well as the reasons for them to be contested. We make our assessments as to the importance of the area, but we also have to make assessments on other things, such as (just to name a few):
- the likelihood it will be protected,
- how it will be managed,
- if, politically, there is support, and
- the impacts the increased tourism will have (and how the management of the area can manage the tourism).
And even after all this, pressures build, the sense of global responsibility diminishes and the ‘development’ trajectory continues along its path.
Whilst The Guardian’s article explains some of the issues around World Heritage listing and also highlights how some have blamed the UN for not doing enough to protect these areas, there is perhaps a deeper thing this is reminding us of – that the dominant ideas of ‘development’ which occupy much of the global political economic discourse and practice needs major re-thinking. It is these conversations, this rethinking which will, ultimately determine sustainable futures for all living things. But without them, we run the risk of losing important ecosystems, displacing local people, and continually putting pressure on the socio-ecological systems which are the foundation of human culture and society.