National governments have repeatedly resisted the placement of 41 UNESCO World Heritage sites—including the Great Barrier Reef—on the World Heritage in Danger list. This resistance is despite the sites being just as threatened, or more threatened, than those already on the in Danger list.
World Heritage sites represent both natural and cultural heritage for global humanity. Their protection sits within the jurisdiction of individual countries. An in Danger listing is intended to raise awareness of threats to these sites and encourage investment in mitigation measures, such as extra protection, explains a statement about the new study.
Lead author Professor Tiffany Morrison from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University (Coral CoE at JCU) says national governments responsible for these World Heritage sites use political strategies of rhetoric and resistance to avoid a World Heritage in Danger listing.
“Avoiding an in Danger listing happens through partial compliance and by exerting diplomatic pressure on countries that are members of the World Heritage Committee,” she said.
The study found the net number of in Danger listings plateaued since the year 2000. At the same time, low visibility political strategies—such as industrial lobbying and political trade-offs associated with the listings—intensified.
“Our results also challenge the assumption that poor governance only happens in less technologically advanced economies. Rich countries often have poor governance too,” Prof Morrison added.
The Great Barrier Reef, under the custodianship of the Australian Government, is just one of the threatened sites that continues to evade the World Heritage in Danger list. It was impacted by three coral bleaching events in the past five years.
World Heritage in Danger listings are frowned upon by high-value natural resource industries such as mining, forestry and environmental tourism. Prof Morrison says the in Danger listings restrict the social license of fossil fuel industries to operate.
The study provides new evidence for how interactions, from 1972 until 2019, between UNESCO and 102 national governments, have shaped the environmental governance and outcomes for 238 World Heritage ecosystems. It also provides examples of how concerned stakeholders can, and are, experimenting with countervailing strategies that harness these politics.
Photo Credit: Nickj | Wikimedia Commons