Undeveloped places under increasing threats

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Eighty five percent of wetlands have disappeared, and critical tropical forests continue to burn. Humanity is pushing against the planet’s boundaries. But there are fewer and fewer places left to go.

Some of the few, undeveloped places left in the world are those located within internationally recognized areas, such as World Heritage, Ramsar, Biosphere Reserves, among others. However, these areas are under increasing threat. Given the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change, it is more important than ever that the world’s most iconic places are protected from harmful development activities. For instance, World Heritage sites exemplify the most outstanding cultural and natural treasures on Earth, and yet they have remained continuously under threat, even despite international recognition and prestige. Although some companies have adopted policies prohibiting activities in World Heritage sites, there is still a great deal more to be done not only on a corporate level, but on a banking level.

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.

Victoria Falls on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe

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

Banks play a critical role in ensuring protected areas stay protected, and there is growing international agreement in this regard. The World Heritage Committee “strongly 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”.

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park

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.

Source – Friends of the Earth

Photos
Top and cover – Alex Berger, Wikimedia Creative Commons
Middle – Bryson Buchanan-Cummings, Wikimedia Creative Commons
Bottom – Arthur T. LaBar, Wikimedia Creative Commons

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