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UNESCO welcomes commitments made by Equinor and Responsible Jewellery Council to protect World Heritage

Thursday, 23 June 2022 at 11:00
access_time 3 min read
UNESCO World Heritage sites remain under threat from extractive industries. The Okapi Wildlife Reserve in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is threatened by illegal artisanal and semi-industrial mining of gold © Eric Loddé

Equinor, one of the leading energy companies and an important player in the oil and gas sector and the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), a leading standard-setting organization for the jewellery and watch industry, have confirmed their commitments to safeguard World Heritage sites.

With an aim to preserve biodiversity and sensitive areas, and to reverse nature loss by 2030, Equinor introduced a new biodiversity position that comprises five areas of action to strengthen biodiversity commitment, including establishing voluntary exclusion zones:

“We recognize the Universal Value of UNESCO World Heritage sites and we acknowledge that some areas need to be left untouched to protect outstanding biodiversity features. We will not undertake any industrial activity in (i) UNESCO World Heritage sites or (ii) areas classified under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Ia “Strict Nature Reserve” or Ib “Wilderness Area” categories as listed on 1st January 2021. If we are considering activities in the buffer zone or adjacent to a World Heritage site, we will consult with UNESCO.”

The policy also includes actions such as developing a net-positive approach, increasing knowledge and access to biodiversity data, investing in nature-based solutions, and advocating for ambitious biodiversity policies. Progress towards the commitments made is reported in the annual sustainability report.

The Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) issued a Code of Practices which defines the responsible ethical, human rights, social and environmental practices that all members adhere to. It is applicable to all members of RJC, including more than 1,600 companies of all sizes across the global watch and jewellery supply chain, retail and mining. The Code of Practices recognizes World Heritage sites as protected areas:

“Members in the mining sector shall not explore or mine in world heritage sites and shall ensure that their activities do not negatively impact directly on adjacent world heritage sites. Members in the mining sector shall respect legally designated protected areas by ensuring that they: a. Have a process to identify nearby legally designated protected areas. b. Comply with any regulations, covenants or commitments attributed to these areas. c. Take impacts on legally designated protected areas into account when making decisions throughout the mining lifecycle.”

The Director of UNESCO World Heritage, Lazare Eloundou Assomo, welcomed these policies by Equinor and the Responsible Jewellery Council: “These commitments confirm the important role the private sector has to play in protecting World Heritage sites and in supporting nature conservation efforts. It is in line with the position of the World Heritage Committee that mineral, oil and gas exploration or exploitation is incompatible with the World Heritage status. We hope that these commitments will inspire other companies to take a similar stand.”

Areas protected under the World Heritage Convention are internationally recognised for their Outstanding Universal Value (OUV). Despite this special status, they continue to be affected by harmful industrial activities and large-scale development projects, including the extractive industry. It has led to stronger dialogue between UNESCO and the corporate sector on policies to protect World Heritage sites.

A number of mining, oil and gas companies, including Shell, Total and bp, have already committed to not explore nor develop projects in areas affecting World Heritage sites, generally known as the World Heritage “No-Go” commitment. Companies from the finance and insurance sectors have also made commitments to not provide financial services, insure nor invest in companies or projects whose activities could damage World Heritage sites, including Barclays, HSBC, and Goldman Sachs.

For more information, visit: https://whc.unesco.org/en/extractive-industries/

The UNESCO World Heritage Centre thanks the on-going support of the Government of Flanders in promoting No-Go commitments in World Heritage sites.