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World Heritage Convention and Biodiversity Conservation
At a major policy dialogue in December, CIFOR scientists and forestry experts, conservationists and government officials from 20 countries met to discuss how the World Heritage Convention might be used as an instrument to help protect biodiversity-rich tropical forests. The meeting, held in Berastagi, North Sumatra, was co-sponsored by CIFOR, UNESCO and the Government of Indonesia.
Among their achievements, the participants drafted a list of tropical forests that were deemed worthy of consideration for nomination as World Heritage sites. They also urged the World Heritage Committee to consider a number of issues relevant to tropical forest protection, such as inherent conflicts between traditional conservation strategies that tend to exclude people from certain areas and newer attitudes that seek to accommodate human needs as well as environmental objectives.
The World Heritage list has been maintained by UNESCO since 1972 based on a conservation treaty, known as the World Heritage Convention, that has been ratified by 160 countries. It designates sites around the world that are outstanding for their cultural value or their unique natural beauty or ecological importance. Financial assistance and management support is provided to help host countries maintain the integrity of designated World Heritage sites.
So far, 33 tropical forest sites covering more than 26 million hectares have been included on the World Heritage List. Thus, the programme already plays a key role in conserving a large proportion of the worlds biodiversity. But the participants at the "Berastagi Dialogue" noted that many forests with widely recognised outstanding biodiversity value are not under World Heritage protection, and urged that the network be expanded to include these important areas before their biological wealth is lost. A related analysis found, for example, that in all of Asia, which has some of the worlds largest remaining areas of rainforest, only four forest sites have received World Heritage status.
The group pledged to make safeguarding the rich variety of species and ecosystems in World Heritage tropical forests a top priority for international conservation efforts. The participants also called for governments and international agencies to provide more funding and other resources needed to support better management of existing tropical forest sites and to broaden the nomination of new candidate sites, especially in under represented regions of the world.