World Heritage Forever? How Banks Can Protect the World’s Most Iconic Cultural and Natural Sites

World Heritage Forever? How Banks Can Protect the World’s Most Iconic Cultural and Natural Sites

Friends of the Earth US has published a new report, “World Heritage Forever? How Banks Can Protect the World’s Most Iconic Cultural and Natural Sites”, examining how the international banking sector lacks strong policies and practices to protect World Heritage and other internationally recognized sites. Drawing on six case studies, the report calls on financial institutions to adopt the Banks and Biodiversity No Go policy, which advocates that banks prohibit direct and indirect financing to harmful activities which may negatively impact internationally recognized areas.

In light of the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change, protecting areas which are already recognized for their exceptional biodiversity and climate regulatory value is more important than ever. At the same time, the most biodiverse places left in the world now overlap with Indigenous Peoples and local communities. This also underscores why banks should require ensuring free, prior, informed consent in their financing. However, banks have yet to develop consistent, comprehensive policies and practices to actively preempt harmful financing in some of the most iconic places on Earth. Unfortunately, even the most prestigious World Heritage sites are not adequately shielded from harmful financing.

Key findings of the report include:

  • Multilateral, public, private sector, and Chinese banks have yet to develop consistent and comprehensive policies to safeguard internationally recognized areas, such as World Heritage sites
  • Multilateral, public, private sector, and Chinese banks should prohibit indirect and direct financing to activities which negatively impact internationally recognized areas, such as World Heritage sites, even if not directly located in the site proper
  • Multilateral, public, private sector, and Chinese banks should require free, prior, informed consent
  • Multilateral, public, private sector, and Chinese banks all struggle to adequately implement environmental and social safeguards and policies
  • Despite international prestige and recognition, internationally recognized areas face recurring risks, sometimes across decades, from harmful development activities
  • Negative environmental and social impacts may be triggered or exacerbated by ill-conceived project locations
  • Conversely, negative environmental and social impacts can be preempted by prohibiting projects located in internationally recognized and sensitive areas
  • Banks should adopt the Banks and Biodiversity Initiative’s No Go policy, which outlines eight broad areas where banks should prohibit harmful direct and indirect financing

 

Case studies in this report include the following examples which impact World Heritage, Ramsar, Biosphere, IUCN category sites, among others:

Project

Sector

Country

Impacted Areas

Mongolian Dams and Lake Baikal

Hydropower

Mongolia

Lake Baikal, World Heritage site

Oil Development in Yasuní National Park 

Oil Development

Ecuador

Yasuní Biosphere Reserve

IUCN category II site

Iron Ore Mining in Mount Nimba

Mining

Guinea

Mount Nimba, World Heritage site

Palm Oil and the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra

Palm Oil

Indonesia

Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra, World Heritage site

LNG Development in the Quirimba Biosphere Reserve

Liquified Natural Gas

Mozambique

Quirimbas Biosphere Reserve

East African Crude Oil Pipeline and Protected Areas

Oil Infrastructure

Uganda & Tanzania

Burigi-Biharamulo Game Reserves, IUCN Cat IV

Ngorongoro National Park, World Heritage site

Murchison Falls-Albert Delta Wetland System, Ramsar site

Lutembe Bay Wetland System, Ramsar site

Taala Forest Reserve, Ugandan protected area

Bugoma Forest, Ugandan protected area

Pemba-Shimoni-Kisite Reserve, marine protected area

Tanga Coelacanth Marine Park, marine protected area

Wembere Steppe, Key Biodiversity Area

Banks play a critical role in ensuring protected areas stay protected, and there is growing international agreement in this regard. The World Heritage Committeestrongly encourages [sic] all banks, investment funds, the insurance industry and other relevant private and public sector companies to integrate into their sustainability policies, provisions for ensuring that they are not financing projects that may negatively impact World Heritage properties and that the companies they are investing in subscribe to the ‘No-go commitment’”. And according to Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), “A key component of sustainable pathways is the evolution of global financial and economic systems to build a global sustainable economy, steering away from the current, limited paradigm of economic growth”.

Accomplishing this will not be easy. But it will be worthwhile. With the looming challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change, it is more important than ever if we are able to keep our world – and World Heritage – forever.

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