World Heritage, Wilderness, and Large Landscapes and Seascapes

Last modified: 
September 12, 2017 - 5:19pm
Type: Report
Year of publication: 2017
Authors: Cyril Kormos, Tim Badman, Tilman Jaeger, Bastian Bertzky, Remco van Merm, Elena Osipova, Yichuan Shi, Peter Larsen
Publishing institution: IUCN
City: Gland, Switzerland
Pages: 70 pp.
ISBN: 978-2-8317-1847-7

This thematic study focuses on the contribution the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (UNESCO 1972), commonly known as the World Heritage Convention (“the Convention”), can make to wilderness conservation around the world.

Chapter 1 first reviews the definition of the term “wilderness” and summarizes the reasons why wilderness conservation is a critical conservation objective. Chapter 1 then provides a brief discussion of some of the key aspects of the World Heritage Convention, and suggests that an even more systematic wilderness approach would be important to further some of the Convention’s key objectives, including maintaining the integrity of existing sites in the face of rapid global change, promoting the goal of a credible and representative World Heritage List (UNESCO 2011a, UNESCO 2015), and achieving better integration of natural and cultural heritage.

Chapter 2 highlights the fact that wilderness areas and large landscapes and seascapes are often home to Indigenous Peoples whose survival and cultural integrity are closely linked to these areas. Chapter 2 assesses the important leadership role the Convention can play in shifting conservation thinking and practice with respect to ensuring biocultural integrity and social equity, and in particular recognizing Indigenous Peoples not just as stakeholders but also as rights holders. Chapter 2 also notes the on-going efforts by IUCN, ICOMOS and ICCROM to connect practice and build the capacity of heritage practitioners as a crucial contribution towards creating the space and the tools for integrated and equitable conservation approaches.

Chapter 3 reviews Statements of Outstanding Universal Value (SoOUV) for the numerous natural and mixed World Heritage sites that have been inscribed on the World Heritage List for their wilderness values or where wilderness is key to the conditions of integrity that lead to a site’s Outstanding Universal Value. This chapter reviews the types of sites that the Convention has already recognized as wilderness at a protected area scale, providing a crucial guide for what might qualify for inscription in the future.

Chapter 4 reviews the extent to which natural and mixed World Heritage sites overlap with global-scale terrestrial and marine wilderness. This analysis makes it possible to assess broad gaps in coverage of global-scale wilderness areas on the World Heritage List, which in turn makes it possible to identify regions where wilderness sites with potential Outstanding Universal Value might be found in the future. Chapter 5 summarizes the activities that are necessary for implementing a wilderness and large landscape and seascapes approach under the Convention. These include two broad categories of activities. The first category involves assessing existing World Heritage sites to gauge whether they are sufficiently large and/or connected to other protected areas to maintain their integrity into the future, or with a view to expanding sites to better recognize nature-culture linkages. The second category includes nominating new wilderness World Heritage sites to fill gaps in wilderness coverage, while ensuring that these new sites are also sufficiently large and/or connected to other protected areas to maintain their values. Chapter 5 also reviews the tools that are available under the Convention to facilitate these activities and suggests policy innovations that could further facilitate a wilderness and large landscapes and seascapes approach.

Finally, we conclude with five case studies describing indigenous and community relationships with wilderness and large landscapes and seascapes that are partially or completely covered by World Heritage sites. The four sites are the Golden Mountains of Altai in the Russian Federation, Kakadu National Park in Australia, Manú National Park in Peru, the Okavango Delta in Botswana and Papahānaumokuākea in the United States. The purpose of these case studies is to give voice on complex issues relating to biocultural landscapes, World Heritage and protected areas to Indigenous Peoples and communities themselves. A second purpose is to express the profound personal dimension of protecting wild nature: the need for an individual (i.e. not just societal) ethical commitment to conserving wild places, the need for reciprocity between human beings and wild landscapes and seascapes and the profound spiritual dimension of this relationship.

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