The massive wildfires in the Amazon, Australia, Central Africa, East Asia and Siberia last year brought forests to the headlines.
Forests are vitally important for sustaining life on Earth. It is estimated that around 1.6 billion people - including more than 2,000 indigenous cultures - depend on forests for their livelihoods, medicine, fuel, food and shelter. The protection of world’s forests is crucial for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals SDGs (in particular SDGs 11 and 15) and is considered as one of the most cost-effective forms of climate action. A number of forests within World Heritage sites were severely impacted by fires recently, including bushfires in Australia. Fire management is one of the essential components of effective management.
The World Heritage Convention is uniquely positioned amongst international conventions, programmes and agencies to play a leading role for in-situ conservation of forest biodiversity. In recognition of this solemn responsibility, the World Heritage Committee in its 25th session (2001), agreed that forests warranted a particular focus, and approved the creation of the World Heritage Forest Programme to ensure that the World Heritage Convention be leveraged as much as possible to further forest conservation on a global scale. As of today, more than 110 World Heritage sites are recognized as World Heritage forest sites. Ranging in size from 18 hectares (Vallée de Mai, Seychelles), to more than 6 million hectares (Central Amazon Conservation Complex, Brazil), World Heritage forest sites now have a total surface area of over 75 million hectares (1.5 times the surface area of France).
The World Heritage Centre has been particularly active in the Congo Basin’s forests through two initiatives: the Biodiversity Conservation in Regions of Armed Conflict: Protecting World Heritage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central Africa World Heritage Forest Initiative (CAWHFI).
A major success of the latter was the inclusion of the Sangha Tri-national (Cameroon, Congo and Central African Republic) in July 2012 on the World Heritage List. This property was the first natural tripartite cross-border site to benefit from this international recognition. Between 2016 and 2020, funding from the European Union enabled CAWHFI to strengthen surveillance of a transboundary area of more than 225,000 km2 (which includes three World Heritage sites (Dja Faunal Reserve in Cameroon, Ecosystem and Relict Cultural Landscape of Lopé-Okanda in Gabon and the Sangha Tri-national) by the multiplication of anti-poaching patrol efforts (more than 3,500 patrols and 300,000 km traveled), the use of innovative technologies (SMART, trap cameras, drones and remote sensing, etc.) and the training of more than 350 eco-guards. The support provided by CAWHFI has also improved site management through the rehabilitation of infrastructure, the promotion of eco-tourism, the involvement and training of local communities (more than 1000 people) and updating / production of wildlife inventories (e.g. elephants, gorillas and chimpanzees). In addition, CAWHFI provided technical support to the Congolese and Gabonese authorities for the preparation of nomination files for the Odzala-Kokoua and Ivindo national parks, respectively.