The 44th session of the World Heritage Committee is being held in Fuzhou, East China's Fujian province, from July 16 to 30. The Fuzhou Declaration passed at the World Heritage Committee session called for enhanced international coordination and cooperation in addressing non-traditional challenges such as climate change and sustainable development, as well as improved management mechanisms for conservation efforts.
Natural world heritage sites, endowed with unique geological, hydrological and ecological characteristics, are sanctuaries for many threatened species and providers of irreplaceable ecological services.
In the 2020 World Heritage Outlook issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, climate change is listed as the top threat to natural heritage sites. Among the 252 natural sites inscribed on the World Heritage List, 83 are severely threatened by climate change, which also threatens the large numbers of species living in these sanctuaries.
The impacts of climate change come in different forms, such as damage caused to the living capacities of endemic species and the resilience of ecosystems, increased frequency and severity of fires, and faster spread of invasive species, which erode the living spaces of endemic species and change local ecosystems.
From the geographic perspective, Asia is struggling with the rising sea level, more frequent natural disasters, and increased water salinity. Africa is fighting poaching－driven by illegal animal trade－invasive species, wild fires, and overexploitation of natural resources. And Europe, South America, Central America, and the Caribbean region are facing increasing threats from climate change-induced extreme weather.
World heritage sites, which are of great economic, social and environmental value, are treasures for humanity. It is the shared responsibility for every country and individual in the world to protect these precious assets from the threats of climate change, and international cooperation is required to achieve this end.
Financing tops the agenda in striving for the conservation objectives of world heritage sites. The conservation funds for heritage sites usually come from governments, ticket revenues, donations, global assistance and lotteries. But these cannot meet the funding required to mitigate the devastating outcomes from climate change. For example, in 2016, Capivara National Park, a world heritage site which shelters Brazil's oldest rock paintings and relics of human communities, was on the brink of closure due to the lack of maintenance and protection funds. The park has seen its rock paintings eroded by rainwater, and more and more insects nesting in the sandstone, leaving the chemicals and minerals of the rocks vulnerable to damage. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant loss of revenues from tourism. Compounded by the threats from climate change, many heritage sites are suffering from a shortage of conservation funds.
The participation of financial institutions, which play the leading role as fund raisers, could fill the gap in conservation funds and effectively reduce economic activities in the world heritage sites and their negative impacts on the sites. The World Bank and Asian Development Bank, among other development-oriented financial institutions, support the conservation and restoration programs of world heritage sites, while some commercial banks are funding the improvements of economic activities in areas housing world heritage sites, and promoting development of local communities so as to preserve the unique value of the world heritage sites.
Since joining the World Heritage Convention, China has attached great importance to the conservation of heritage sites, and made significant achievements. The Chinese government is committed to strengthening the protection of China's natural heritage sites through implementing relevant policies and regulations for world heritage, carrying out environmental impact evaluations and drawing ecological redlines.
And, in addition to being the host of this UNESCO event, China is also hosting the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 15) in October. China is also a firm supporter of and will be an active participant in the 26th session of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to be held in Glasgow this November.
But as with other countries, China also faces a lack of conservation funds, unstable fiscal support, insufficient social investment and uneven distribution of revenues from heritage sites, all of which severely impede its efforts to protect and use its world heritage sustainably.
In recent years, China has proposed the ideas of "lush mountains and lucid waters are invaluable assets", and "protecting the ecological environment is protecting productive forces, improving the ecological environment is developing productive forces", which reflect the philosophy of building a mutually beneficial relations between environmental protection and social and economic development.
The Chinese government is encouraging financial institutions to explore more market-based methods or modes to fund environmental protection and management of ecological products. In April, China rolled out a document to motivate financial institutions to innovate financing products and services according to market- and law-based rules to give more middle- and long-term loans to providers of ecological services. Some banks are contributing to world heritage conservation and development through such means as supporting relevant protection programs, "eco-bank" pilot programs, providing added financial services and promoting assets securitization.
It is China's responsibility as a major country to increase its financial institutions' contribution to environmental protection and the conservation of world heritage, which will also help the financial sector to develop in a green way and avoid risks. On the one hand, Chinese banks should avoid causing damage to world heritage sites in investing domestic or overseas programs; on the other hand, China could harvest some economic benefits and score green points by assisting in the conservation of world heritage and broadening its channels of environmental protection funds.
Author：Zhu Yifan is a team member of Biodiversity Finance Project at Greenovation Hub. Xu Jiayi is senior project manager of Biodiversity Finance at Greenovation Hub.
Source: China Daily