The World Heritage Centre organized an international meeting on natural heritage protection and management in the Arab States on 21 December at the UNESCO Headquarters.
The meeting entitled “The Management of Natural Heritage in Support of Sustainable Development: An Institutional Challenge in the Arab States” was co-chaired by Mechtild Rössler, Director of the Heritage Division and World Heritage Centre, and Qunli Han, Director of the Division of Ecological and Earth Sciences, in the Natural Sciences Sector. It gathered Arab National institutions (Ministries, National Agencies, site managers, etc.), international organisations and partners (IUCN, PERSGA), the Regional Arab Centre of World Heritage, NGOs, international and regional experts, members of the World Heritage Committee, as well as members of the UNESCO Delegations from the Arab region.
The meeting also benefited from the participation and active participation of HRH Princess Basma bint Ali of Jordan, Founder and Chairperson of the Royal Botanic Garden and the Royal Marine Conservation Society of Jordan, H.E. Mr Adil Hamid Musa, Minister of Tourism, Antiquities and Wildlife of Sudan, and H.E. Mr Jassim Al Falahi, Deputy Minister of Environment of Iraq.
The objectives of the meeting were to explore ways to sensitize decision makers to the richness of natural heritage in the region and to the necessity to step-up its management and protection, to build on international cooperation for achieving better results and to identify priorities for action.
The Arab region presents a natural richness of remarkable diversity and unique aesthetic value, which so far is largely underrepresented on the World Heritage List: 4 natural sites versus 73 cultural sites (and two mixed sites, inscribed on the basis of cultural and natural attributes).
Following the recent adoption of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and of the Agreement adopted by the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), it is ever more important to strengthen the implementation of the World Heritage Convention in the Arab States for achieving the goals of the international sustainable development agenda.
The meeting showcased the diversity and richness of natural heritage in the Arab States, presented various case studies of sites inscribed or proposed for inscription on the World Heritage List, explored international cooperation opportunities and allowed a reflection on priority actions and a way forward for the protection of natural heritage in the Arab States, and its better representation on the World Heritage List.
The main recommendations of the meeting included the need to sensitize and mobilize decision makers and local communities through the development of empirical data, of management and protection tools, and of the links between environmental protection, economic benefits and jobs creation. The crucial importance of reinforcing sustainable development knowledge in the education curricula was also highlighted.
Moreover, the participants called for a better cooperation between existing mechanisms and programmes, within UNESCO and globally for natural heritage to contribute to the protection of ecosystems.Finally, it was agreed to seize the opportunity of COP22 that will be held in Morocco in order to bring this agenda further, and build the ground for a regional ministerial meeting on natural heritage.