A Third Of Natural Heritage Sites Are Under Threat
Many investors are unaware of their exposure to companies with concessions overlapping world heritage sites. It’s time they opened their eyes – and lobbied
Shell has seen sense. Or at least, that’s what green NGOs like us want to believe. In fact, Shell says it’s more about the bottom line than environmental imperative or the groundswell of public opinion – although the company seems to be privately admitting it was surprised at the scale of public opposition to drilling in the Arctic.
Whatever the real reason Shell changed course, we shouldn’t relax. There are still many threats of exploration and extraction not only hanging over the Arctic but, as new research by WWF shows, nearly a third of natural world heritage sites around the world.
Natural world heritage sites are recognised for their “outstanding universal value” and are protected under the Unesco World Heritage Convention. They include the Great Barrier Reef, the Grand Canyon, the Serengeti and many more. The number of sites at risk in Africa is especially high, with 61% of these precious areas subject to some form of extractive concession or activity, according to WWF.
World heritage sites are an irreplaceable part of both our past and our future and should be kept free of extractive activity and conserved for the spiritual, social, environmental and economic benefit of future generations. But who can bring real influence to bear?
An important step we can all take is to ask investors to look carefully at the companies they invest in, and demand transparency. Now is the time to ask extractive companies to leave natural world heritage sites alone. We are talking about safeguarding a small part of the world that has disproportionate natural value.
Of course, these places may well also have disproportionate economic value, but the long-term solution to our economic challenges does not lie under a pristine rainforest or next to a bio-diverse reef. And protecting these places from extractive activity also protects the reputations and bottom lines of investors and extractive firms alike.
Soco International’s experience is proof of the reputational and ultimately the financial risk of operating in these areas. The oil company has had to write off millions of dollars connected to its exploration activities in Virunga national park, Africa oldest and most biodiverse protected area. Others have similarly come under scrutiny for their plans and operations. The threats are real – to finance, to reputations and to the natural world.
Part of the problem is that because of lack of disclosure, many investors are unaware they are exposed to companies with concessions overlapping world heritage sites or other legally protected areas.
Until recently, too, investors may not have focussed sufficiently on finding out about this area, because they are conscious that most of their clients want “maximum risk-adjusted returns”. But risk-adjusted return is increasingly being influenced by environmental and social factors.
Gone are the days when these factors can be considered marginal – they now influence the mainstream and it would be imprudent to ignore them. Some companies are making the right noises, and taking action, but there are still thousands that are not. Now is the time for investors to put a stake in the ground.
Given their significant control over global flows of capital, investors can play a crucial role in safeguarding natural world heritage sites. We want them to demand sector-wide disclosure and “no-go” commitments for natural world heritage sites, lest they be in breach not only of their fiduciary duty but of their duty to the help conserve the natural heritage of humankind.
- The Guardian
- Published on:
- October 1, 2015
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