IUCN Statement on Arctic World Heritage

by Ms Jeanne L. Pagnan

Madame Chair, ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to be here on behalf of IUCN, the World Conservation Union and official Advisory Body to the World Heritage Convention on natural heritage.

In 1948, a group of enlightened individuals met in France and formed an organisation dedicated to conserving the world’s natural resources which were quickly being anhilated in many parts of the globe. Out of that initiative grew the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, a unique organisation that brings governments and non-government organisations together at the same table. Today, the Union has over 1000 member organisations, including the governments of all eight Arctic countries. In addition, IUCN has six Commissions that form global networks of experts in their fields.

In recent years, IUCN has increasingly turned its attention to the underlying causes that lead to the destruction of the world's natural resources on which humankind depends for its very survival. The result is that IUCN now has a much broader tapestry of programmes and issues with which it deals. But its fundamental raison d’etre remains the same: the conservation of the earth’s species, ecosystems and natural values.

IUCN's relationship with the World Heritage Convention has crystilised over the years. In 1972, it was referenced in the Convention as an organisation with similar objectives and one that could be called on to assist in implementing the Convention's programmes and projects. IUCN's role is now explicitly defined in the Convention’s Operational Guidelines and has been further formalised through regular contractual agreements between the World Heritage Centre and IUCN.

In brief, IUCN has four roles in support of the Convention.

  • First, IUCN evaluates and advises the World Heritage Committee on all natural and ‘mixed’ sites nominated for World Heritage Status and contributes to evaluations of certain cultural landscapes.
  • Second, IUCN monitors the state of conservation of existing natural and ‘mixed’ World Heritage sites.
  • Third, IUCN contributes to training, capacity building and related initiatives, particularly at regional and field levels and lastly,
  • IUCN contributes to the development and implementation of the Global Strategy of the World Heritage Committee by providing advice on the concept of Outstanding Universal Value and preparing a series of Global Overview Studies on different categories of World Heritage sites.

To manage its World Heritage duties, the IUCN Secretariat in Gland, Switzerland, has established a special World Heritage unit within its Programme on Protected Areas. The Unit is responsible for co-ordinating IUCN’s input to the Convention and managing the site evaluation process. For each natural site nomination, IUCN selects an impartial team of international experts and external reviewers who assess the nomination against the criteria and conditions outlined in the Convention and its Operational Guidelines. The process consists of an assessment of the nomination dossier, an evaluation mission, 10 – 20 external reviews per nomination, two IUCN World Heritage Panel meetings and the preparation of a Report and Recommendations which are then submitted to the World Heritage Committee.

IUCN has noted with pleasure that the number of Natural World Heritage Sites in the Arctic has been steadily increasing. For instance, in The State of Protected Areas in the Circumpolar Arctic 1994 only two sites were listed. By 2001, as reported in Arctic Flora and Fauna, Status and Conservation, the number had risen to three with the addition of Lapponian Area. And since then, several more natural sites have been inscribed, including the Wrangel Island Reserve and Illulissat Icefjord, about which we will be hearing more.


But along with the increase in Arctic nominations come some challenges for IUCN. I would like to draw your attention to a few. In the first instance, the "Arctic" does not fit neatly into IUCN's traditional "regional" structure. Therefore, the first challenge is how do the Arctic countries wish IUCN to geographically define the Arctic?

Second, IUCN would benefit from some Arctic-specific tools and standards to assist in the evaluation process. As part of its evaluation, IUCN is required to carry out comparative analyses of nominated sites against other sites whether on the World Heritage List or not. Some of the tools that would help IUCN carry out this task for Arctic nominations would be:

  • an expanded list of Arctic experts to draw on for the evaluation process.
  • a thematic study set of the Arctic to facilitate comparative analyses with other Arctic sites or global sites with similar natural values

IUCN would be pleased to work with the States Parties and with the World Heritage Centre to further investigate these challenges and develop suitable tools as needed.

To conclude, I would like to again draw your attention to the World Heritage Global Overview Studies that IUCN has been preparing in support of the World Heritage Committee’s Global Strategy. To date, IUCN has prepared overviews on various biomes such as mountains and deserts. Should resources be available, IUCN would be interested in preparing a Global Overview Study of the Arctic. We feel that this would be especially timely since it is the International Polar Year and also in light of the escalating impacts of climate change on the Arctic.

Thank you for your attention.