World Heritage Sites now ‘no-go’ for Total
Oil, gas and mining threats are on the rise in World Heritage Sites, according to a publication by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
“World Heritage Sites are some of the most precious, and often the most fragile, wild places remaining on Earth. There is an increasing recognition that responsible companies have no business violating them,” said Lasse Gustavsson, Executive Director of Conservation at WWF International. “WWF urges members of the extractive industries, as well as the banking and finance sectors, to stand in defence of World Heritage Sites by pledging to respect their integrity."
WWF and its supporters have conducted a sustained campaign against Total seeking a firm pledge by the company that it will remain out of World Heritage Sites.
Total’s move follows an earlier pledge to remain out of Virunga National Park, a World Heritage Site in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), although the company is still operating outside the park’s boundaries. The World Heritage Committee has requested that all oil permits infringing on Virunga be revoked.
London-based Soco International PLC is planning to begin soon seismic testing inside the World Heritage Site. The company has warned that its exploration activities could lead to habitat loss, wildlife poaching, invasive species, diseases, pollution, drinking water contamination, and the loss of fishing jobs.
“WWF is deeply concerned about what oil exploitation could mean for the people living around Virunga National Park,” Gustavsson said. “Fishermen may soon be restricted from their lake so that foreign prospectors can blast sound into it looking for oil deposits. Many nearby residents fear that if oil exploitation occurs the fish and water they depend on may be ruined leaving them with nothing.”
Soco has continued to pursue oil exploration in Virunga, Africa’s oldest and most biodiverse protected area, despite opposition from across Europe and beyond. WWF has filed a complaint against the company with OECD alleging environmental violations and human rights abuses, and over 500,000 activists are demanding Soco’s immediate retreat.
Virunga National Park has the potential to become a driver of long-term, sustainable economic growth for eastern DRC through investments in hydropower, fisheries and ecotourism. Worldwide, WWF advocates for a transition to 100 per cent renewable energy sources and the rapid phase out of all fossil fuels.