VIRUNGA is a ground-breaking documentary about the battle to protect one of the planet’s flagship protected areas – a UNESCO natural World Heritage site - and this Sunday it could bag an Oscar for the Best Documentary at the 87th Academy Awards ceremony. The film highlights a major issue: if we can’t protect these critically important areas, which cover less than 1% of the globe, what can we protect?
Here at ZSL we want more to be done to protect our natural World Heritage sites, in particular against the increasing threat of extractives (mining, oil and gas) activities. We’re working with World Heritage site managers, governments, the private sector, other NGO partners, the IUCN World Heritage Programme and UNESCO to make this happen.
We’ve been reviewing the issues surrounding extractives and natural World Heritage Sites, including international frameworks, national laws, and extractive and finance industry policies. We’ve found there’s still a long way to go before regulatory frameworks and company policies assure World Heritage sites of the protection they need. We’re concerned that some countries may continue to allow the extractives sector access to exploit these precious places.
There’s no easy solution to these issues. We need to realise and better value the longer-term benefits of nature, and in particular protected areas such as Virunga National Park, to the local and global community. Virunga has a strategy to accomplish just this – the Virunga Alliance.
We need to set aside key areas, such as natural World Heritage Sites, or large tracts of still intact natural habitat such as primary forest, as off-limits to things like mining and oil or gas activities – and manage the impacts of development elsewhere, to really be able to achieve ‘sustainable development’.
This was a key topic at the once-in-a-decade IUCN World Parks Congress in November last year, where ZSL released a joint NGO statement calling for 'no go' and 'no impact' policies for extractive activities in and around natural World Heritage Sites, signed by nine of the world's leading conservation organisations.
We need comprehensive, consistent, industry-wide policies on this, and a clear commitment from the States Parties to the World Heritage Convention to uphold their obligations regarding the protection of World Heritage sites.
Without these solutions, the amazing and irreplaceable biodiversity of natural World Heritage Sites – which in Virunga’s case includes iconic species such as the mountain gorilla and okapi – is at risk.
There are other places where we can extract oil, but Virunga’s unique natural riches are found nowhere else on earth.
Read more about VIRUNGA on the documentary website.
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