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World Heritage Convention

Decision 44 COM 7B.190
Wood Buffalo National Park (Canada) (N 256)

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/21/44.COM/7B.Add,
  2. Recalling Decisions 39 COM 7B.18, 41 COM 7B.2 and 43 COM 7B.15, adopted at its 39th (Bonn, 2015), 41st (Krakow, 2017) and 43rd (Baku, 2019) sessions respectively,
  3. While welcoming the important State Party investment in the Wood Buffalo National Park Action Plan and its commitment to enhance the relationship and collaboration with First Nations and Métis, expresses its utmost concern that the major overarching threats and risks stemming from areas outside the property identified by the 2016 Reactive Monitoring mission have not been met with effective management responses, in particular the threats to the Peace Athabasca Delta (PAD) and thereby to the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property due to:
    1. The absence of effective inter-jurisdictional water governance,
    2. The continuation of hydropower development in the absence of clarity on flow regulation that considers OUV,
    3. The continued absence of an adequate risk assessment for the large tailings ponds upstream of the property despite new information on major risks;
  4. Notes that the federal land manager of the property (Parks Canada Agency) has very limited authority beyond the property even though all major threats are outside the property’s boundaries, and also expresses its utmost concern about:
    1. The temporary suspension of oil sands monitoring at a time when the footprint of the oil sands continues to grow,
    2. The findings by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), including consistent evidence of seepage of oil sands processed water (OSPW) from tailings ponds into groundwater within the Athabasca watershed,
    3. The intention to consider releasing OSPW into the Athabasca River,
    4. The confirmation of an imminent threat to the recovery of wood bison due to disease risks and industrial activities;
  5. Requests the State Party to allocate adequate resources and establish mechanisms to enable effective coordinated management between the federal and provincial governments for the property and the adjacent existing and new provincial protected areas, and strongly encourages the State Party to further exploration of innovative conservation governance and management models in both the provincial parks and the federal national park;
  6. Reiterates its encouragement to the State Party to consider the designation of a buffer zone for the property, in particular towards the advancing development frontier;
  7. Takes note of the State Party announcement to dedicate substantial additional funding to the implementation of the Action Plan over a three-year period and strongly requests the State Party to ensure adequate and reliable resourcing beyond the three-year term;
  8. Also takes note of third party information, including reports from First Nations, regarding ongoing challenges by the State Party in the involvement of stakeholders and rights-holders;
  9. Reiterates its request the State Party to fully implement all mission recommendations as soon as possible, in particular to:
    1. Adopt a clear and coherent policy and guidance to enable the transition to a genuine partnership with First Nations and Métis communities in the governance and management of the property,
    2. Conduct environmental flows assessments to the highest international standards for the Peace, Athabasca and Slave Rivers as they pertain to the health of the PAD, in order to identify water flows needed to sustain the ecological functioning of the PAD under the circumstances of existing and planned future dams and water withdrawals,
    3. Conduct a systematic risk assessment of the tailings ponds of the Alberta Oil Sands region with a focus on risks to the PAD, and submit this report to the World Heritage Centre, for review by IUCN, in accordance with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines,
    4. Expand the scope of monitoring and project assessments to encompass possible individual and cumulative impacts on the OUV of the property and in particular the PAD;
  10. Notes with regret that, despite the State Party’s important efforts to date, progress has been insufficient in addressing the Committee requests, and regretting that the property continues to face severe threats with its conservation status having not improved since the 2016 mission and the conditions of OUV declining, considers that the property likely meets the criteria for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger in conformity with Chapter IV.B of the Operational Guidelines;
  11. Also requests the State Party to invite, as soon as possible, a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission to the property to assess its state of conservation, in particular in relation to the above-mentioned threats, and to confirm whether the property meets the conditions for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger, and to recommend the measures necessary to address the threats to its OUV;
  12. Finally requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2022, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property, including a pathway to address the governance challenges and multiple threats impeding the effectiveness of the implementation of the Action Plan and a broader response to the growing threats to the OUV of the property, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 45th session, with a view to considering, in case of confirmation of potential or ascertained danger to its OUV, the possible inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
Decision Code
44 COM 7B.190
States Parties 1
State of conservation reports
2021 Wood Buffalo National Park
Decisions adopted at the 44th extended session of the World Heritage Committee
Context of Decision