Suva, Fiji (19 November 2021) – UNESCO, in partnership with IUCN Oceania, recently completed a draft background report to inform the Pacific Regional World Heritage Action Plan 2021-2025.

The report is based on consultation at national and regional levels, and the findings present the dynamic heritage profile of the Pacific region, including challenges, strengths and opportunities, and suggest national and regional priorities for action for World Heritage. Together with the results of the Third Cycle of Periodic Reporting for Asia and the Pacific region conducted by States Parties to the World Heritage Convention, the report aims to provide a more in-depth analysis of the region’s priorities and needs. Together, they are expected to form the basis for a more relevant and feasible Action Plan for the Asia-Pacific region, which will be submitted to the World Heritage Committee at its 45th session in June 2022 for examination.

To further consider and discuss the report, around forty participants from the Pacific countries and representatives from regional and international interest sectors came together in a virtual workshop, jointly hosted by the IUCN Oceania and UNESCO Office for the Pacific States in Apia on 10 and 11 November 2021.

Nisha, Director of the Office and UNESCO Representative to the Pacific States, set the scene for the workshop. She highlighted the “Importance of streamlining the preservation of heritage into regional and national policy discussions and holding dedicated conversations in each country on how natural and cultural heritage is protected and preserved. The Priority Actions identified through this consultative process carried out in partnership with IUCN are a significant contribution towards this end”.

Feng Jing, Chief of the Asia and the Pacific Unit of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, added to Nisha’s remarks in saying, “UNESCO launched the Third Cycle of Periodic Reporting for the Asia-Pacific Region in October 2020. The data collected is now being analysed by Periodic Reporting Experts and will contribute to developing the Regional Action Plan. The opportunity to hold further consultations with a wide range of stakeholders as through this workshop further helps in the development of a relevant Regional Action Plan”.

Discussions on the first day of the workshop centred around national issues and interests, and participants found common ground regarding the following action points: bring natural and cultural heritage streams together; focus effort on current World Heritage sites; review and reprioritize national Tentative Lists and potential World Heritage sites; develop suitable heritage legislation; push for capacity development and funding, and; endorse and actively use Action Plans. In addition, the serious ramifications on national initiatives from major natural disasters, cumulative climate change impacts and pandemics were also reinforced during the discussions.

Other observations included the importance of effective engagement and involvement of Pacific communities at all stages of World Heritage processes; the significance of capacity building, focused on sustainability rather than one-off outcomes; the clear identification and communication of benefits from natural and cultural conservation; and finally the significant constraints in terms of both human and financial resources for the further development of World Heritage in the region.

The second day of the workshop provided an opportunity to reflect on World Heritage from a regional perspective. The solid regional organisational architecture and the depth of experience that exists are not yet well linked in the context of World Heritage. At the international level, there are support mechanisms, but these are not well known in the region. The idea of a ‘regional heritage list’ was also floated whereby places that may not meet the strict recognition criteria of the World Heritage Convention but are still critically important for the people and the environment of the Pacific can be recognised. Furthermore, the Pacific Heritage Hub model was viewed as an excellent concept and was still required but needs renewed focus and funding to succeed.

An important theme from both workshop days was that the Pacific region demonstrates how nature and culture can be bought together, and there is ample scope for cultural landscapes and seascapes, as these are part of the Pacific way of life.

Mason Smith, Regional Director of IUCN Oceania, highlighted that “It was pleasing to see the commitment on display from many partner organisations who continue to be willing supporters for countries in their work on World Heritage. I heard two very important points during the workshop. Firstly, nature and culture have to be viewed and approached in an integrated way with more emphasis on the identification and nomination of cultural landscapes and through a more integrated approach to conventions which relate to nature and culture. Secondly, World Heritage in the Pacific needs to be embedded into relevant regional and national frameworks, including SDGs and key instruments such as the Framework for Nature Conservation, the Culture Strategy, and the Pacific Blue Strategy”.

Participants over both workshop days mentioned that they generally felt that actions proposed in the background report were well aimed at the core issues and needs and were relevant and necessary for inclusion in the next Action Plan.