Vica reports from the 41st session of the World Heritage Committee in Poland's second-largest city, Kraków.
Follow Tasmanian Campaign Manager Vica Bayley's daily blog from the annual World Heritage Committee meeting in Krakow, Poland. Like the Doha Diary and Bonn Blog before it, Krakow Communique will provide an observer's view of a UN meeting that discusses some of the most precious places on the planet.
Monday, 10 July 2017
I thought it useful, as much for me as anyone else reading this blog, to take some time to reflect on the World Heritage Committee meeting and the experience of its 41st Session. I’ve found this blog both a opportunity and a privilege, to daily think a bit deeper about events and take some time to unpack them.
I’ve now left the meeting and have been in Hamburg in Germany for a few days. Hamburg has been in the news lately: hosting the annual G20 Leaders Summit over this last weekend and its associated protests. More on that later.
The World Heritage Committee meeting this year was different to the other three I’ve participated in, largely because it was lower pressure—Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) not being on the agenda for active discussion.
Each of the other meetings were incredibly high stakes. In 2013, with an extension of spectacular forests like the Styx in the offering; in 2014 because Tony Abbott and Will Hodgman wanted to unprotect some of it; and in 2015 because they wanted to log it despite its World Heritage status.
This year, while we had some important meetings to discuss the outstanding issue of wilderness protection and the threat of tourism development, without the backdrop of an actual decision being made, it’s been far more relaxing. It’s also given a welcome chance to help others—including the local Polish forest campaigners—to understand the procedures and people of the World Heritage Committee and navigate their perspectives into the process.
The World Heritage Watch conference set up the capacity to do this. It was there we met Robert from Greenpeace Poland; Choekyi from Tibet; Imrani from Pakistan; the Kates from Stonehenge, Emilija from Macedonia; and so many others, all working to protect their piece of the planet.
Overall, the Committee has done its job. Since leaving, I’ve seen news reports popping up of sites across the world that have been inscribed at this meeting: Los Alerces in Argentina, the English Lakes District, and the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley in Mexico—to name a few.
But increasingly, the Committee seems to act politically—with support arrangements made between countries to inscribe (not list as 'in danger') or otherwise ignore the advice of the expert natural and cultural heritage advisers. Of course, there will always be cases where the advice may not be perfect, or additional information is received after recommendations and draft decisions are developed, but there seems to be a trend developing.
Overall, after missing last year’s session in Istanbul, this meeting has been a success. We’ve raise the issues of tourism development affecting wilderness protection, got a good understanding of the process from here, and reconnected with some knowledgeable people. And we continued to distribute the Proposed Extensions document—a publication we created for the meeting in Bonn that makes the case for the takayna/Tarkine, West Coast Range, Spero-Wanderer Wilderness and Recherche Bay to be added to the TWWHA. That’s a longer campaign, but not one we’ll give up on.
Next step on the TWWHA is a State of Conservation Report by the Australian Government, in December this year. On the basis of this, a report and decision will be drafted for next year’s Committee meeting. We don’t yet know where it’s going to be held, but we’ll certainly be hoping to get there again.
After leaving Krakow, I travelled to Hamburg in Germany to spend some time with an old friend and my goddaughter. As it turned out, it was an interesting weekend to be there, with Hamburg hosting the annual G20 Leaders Summit: a meeting of the 20 countries that represents about 90% of the world’s economic activity.
With the recent lurch to the right in global politics, it was always going to be interesting to see how some new players, like Donald Trump and Theresa May, would perform, especially amongst old despots like Putin from Russia and Erdogan from Turkey.
While I’m not 100% across the outcomes of the summit, aside from the curious tweets and increased isolation of Trump, the dominant theme for those of us on the ground in Hamburg were the protests. These were characterised by the very worst and best of what protest movements have to offer.
Dominating the media coverage was the violent, anarchic rioting and looting carried out by a small number of militant thugs, thinking they can change the world by destroying what they don’t agree with. Footage of the balaclava-wearing Antifa was beamed around the world, burning cars and barricades, battling police and looting shops in what was a self-defeating, hypocritical attempt to smash the capitalist system. Pretty sad really, to see people protesting capitalism by stealing iPhones and burning private property. Helicopters and police sirens dominated the evenings in and around the suburbs of St Pauli and Altona.
I’m not sure how much coverage the main rally got, but it's sad to think that a squad of a thousand thugs dressed in black and fighting a police and PR battle they were always going to lose could drown out the collective capacity, compassion and care of the critical mass.
But to reinforce the need to believe in humanity and its capacity to do good, the response from ordinary citizens of Hamburg on the Sunday was inspiring. Over 7,000 people took their brooms and gloves to the streets and joined together to clean up from the chaos of the riots. They swept away the broken bottles, piled up the cobblestones ripped from the pavements, scrubbed the graffiti from walls and generally restored their city to one known as the most friendly and beautiful in Germany. All power to those people!
So I return to Australia now, with some good knowledge of the next steps we need to take to defend Tasmania’s wilderness and extend the World Heritage Area, to properly encompass all those areas worthy of global recognition. But I do it knowing we currently have governments determined to destroy consensus, wind back conservation, exploit the good work of others and promote political division over a planned future. They too should dress in black.
Sunday, 9 July 2017
There are some people who have been in and around World Heritage Committee meetings for a very long time, and the general consensus was that the morning’s session on Friday was one of the most bizarre ever.
It was always going to be difficult: the first item for discussion being the inscription as World Heritage—and immediate listing as 'in danger'—of Hebron, nominated by Palestine.
Palestine was only recognised and admitted to the UN in 2012, to much protestation from Israel and its allies—including the US and Australia. Over the past years, we’ve witnessed the global political schism of Israel and Palestine play out in the World Heritage Committee, but Hebron was particularly sensitive.
Hebron is the ancient city in the West Bank, about 30km south of Jerasulem. It is reported as the second most holy place in Judaism; the fourth in Islam. Palestine nominated the site based on its obvious cultural grounds, with an emphasis in the significance for Islam.
For Israel, not only did this seem to relegate the Jewish significance to something less than Islam, but it legitimises Palestine’s claim to this territory in the eyes of the world—a trigger point for some bizarre antics and theatre.
Ultimately, after three hours of debate, the Committee went to a secret ballot, with 16 countries supporting the inscription, three opposing and six abstaining. This promoted the Israeli ambassador to UNESCO to leave his seat in the observer countries section and prowl the stage berating the Committee and, ultimately, being subdued by security. When he eventually took the microphone to respond to the decision, as is a country’s right, he continued a rant against the UN, countries such as Cuba and Germany, and the decision.
It got even more ridiculous; during his speech, his mobile phone continually rang—after he paused mid-sentence to answer it, he returned to the microphone to say “it’s my plumber in my apartment in Paris. There is a huge problem in my toilet and it is much more important than the decision you just adopted.” He then stormed out. All pretty unbecoming theatre, but a sign that even the conservative, polite and protocol-ridden institutions of the UN are not immune to the deep division of the politics of the Middle East.
When things settled, the Committee got on with the job of considering the nominations to the World Heritage list and inscribed many.
One listing that we didn’t fully support—despite being a spectacular, highly eligible property—was Qinghai Hoh Xil in Tibet. Nominated by the Chinese, given they occupy and lay claim to Tibet, the nomination was on natural grounds alone—despite the presence of a significant local population of nomadic Tibetan herdsmen. These herdsmen and their grazing practices over millennia, have contributed to the structure, natural values and processes of the grasslands and their values.
At the World Heritage Watch conference, we met Choekyi—a Paris-based Tibetan woman who has been living in exile all her life. She made the case against the listing, saying that the Chinese Government should be recognising the cultural practices and beliefs of the nomads, nominating the property on cultural grounds, and giving unequivocal commitments that the listing won’t be used to relocate the nomads from their lands.
The case does appear to breach the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent, where indigenous people are fully consulted on decisions to be made about their land. Choekyi gave an impassioned plea to the Committee following the decision, all the while being filmed and photographed in an intimidating way by the Chinese delegation.
At a side event during the lunch break, the natural values experts IUCN presented a research paper on wilderness and the importance of large, intact and undisturbed land and seascapes in protecting biodiversity and other natural values. You can access the report and an explanation here.
Importantly, the work recognises the significance of Indigenous people in helping shape, manage and maintain the natural values of wilderness areas. Whether in Tasmania, Canada, Russia or Botswana, the millennia-long occupation of land and active, traditional management of it has helped create what is now known as wilderness and preserved its natural values.
In some inspiring thinking, people are working on intra-continental wilderness linkages, using World Heritage sites like Yellowstone and the Canadian Rocky Mountains as the core of a cross-continent conservation initiative.
Finally, we had a constructive meeting with the Federal Government’s departmental representative at the Committee, to talk about Tassie’s Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) and the challenges facing it. We were able to walk him through the inconsistencies between the governments’ commitments and the actual implementation of Committee decisions in TWWHA's management plan. While he didn’t have answers, it’s always valuable to talk directly to some of these issues and put them on notice. We’ll be watching closely for a response.
And Friday was my last day at the committee meeting. While it runs for a couple more days, we’ve done what we came to do; had some good, constructive meetings with various entities; and made some new connections and friends. I’ll post one more contribution tomorrow, with some reflections on the Committee meeting and its outcomes and anecdotes from post-meeting travel—which included a visit to Hamburg whilst the G20 was in progress.
Thursday, 6 July 2017
Each year, ‘the Green Machine’ is a social event convened after the end of a day’s proceedings to pull together people who are working on the protection of natural heritage values. This year, at a restaurant in the Jewish quarter of Krakow, eNGO campaigners, natural heritage advisers to country delegations, experts from the IUCN, and others working in the natural values field got together to celebrate the work they do and the places they protect.
It’s by no means the only social engagement in and around the Committee meetings, but it’s a great opportunity to relax in an off-site, informal setting and share perspectives on the progress of the committee meeting, the various sites and their issues and, importantly, network at a personal and professional level.
In the Committee proceedings today, it continued to grind through what is called the 'State of Conservation Reports'—the assessments done by The World Heritage Centre and its Advisory Bodies. The World Heritage Centre is UNESCO’s secretariat, managing process and data on behalf of the 21-member Committee, who make the decisions. The Advisory Bodies are experts in the field of natural and cultural heritage values, and are the IUCN (for natural) and ICOMOS and ICCROM (for cultural).
Within the State of Conservation Reports, we heard of the challenges facing Nepal following the devastating earthquake of 2015 and the destruction wrought on ancient buildings listed as part of the Kathmandu Valley World Heritage Area. While commendable efforts have been made by Nepal to begin reconstruction, the World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS are concerned about progress and had drafted a decision that was to place Kathmandu on the 'World Heritage in danger' list. However, such is the mechanics (and increasingly the politics) of the World Heritage Committee, decisions can be changed on the floor of the meeting to reflect something different to that recommended.
In the case of Kathmandu, Nepal was keen to avoid the perceived ‘black mark’ that an 'in danger' listing represents, and worked with Committee member countries to amend the draft decision accordingly. In some ways, in danger listing could assist them with efforts to raise money and reconstruction assistance, but Nepal clearly take a different view.
This is despite the fantastic work and intervention of Imrana, a Pakistani lady we have been working with over the last week since the World Heritage Watch conference. She is an inspiring and powerful woman, doing an impressive job of standing up for the incredible heritage her place, Lahore. Following the adoption of a disgraceful decision, as a representative of civil society she delivered a well-deserved critique of the Committee’s behaviour and questioned its commitment to the integrity of the World Heritage Convention.
Earlier in the day, Luke and I again made the most of field trips offered by the host country and visited the Royal Salt Mines of Wieliczka. These were listed as World Heritage in 1978—one of the very first sites to be inscribed on the World Heritage list.
Prior to visiting, it was difficult for me to comprehend how a mine could quality as World Heritage, as mining is usually associated with one of the greatest threats to natural and cultural heritage values in World Heritage properties.
However, this was an experience of what I now appreciate is an incredible feat of human engineering, endeavour and commerce. The mine dates to before the 1300s, has nine levels and goes to depth of over 340 metres. While we visited only 2km of tunnels and chambers, it extends over 300km—shored up by massive logs and other timbers that have been put in place over centuries. Whole forests have been cut down and constructed into an endless labyrinth of passages and pathways, made into massive mechanical devices used to haul salt, workers and horses, and chiselled into gutters to channel salty water away from the mine face. The mine is complete with a cathedral adorned with wooden chandeliers.
The salt mined from Wieliczka was traded across Europe and Northern Africa, making Krakow a central hub for trading and a powerful capital in the region with glorious castles and public buildings.
Wednesday, 5 July 2017
UNESCO and its World Heritage Convention again demonstrated its importance in protecting natural values, once more defending outstanding old growth forests against attack from an extreme, right wing and anti-conservation government.
The Committee today defended the integrity of the Convention by rejecting host country Poland’s proposal to undertake so-called ‘sanitary logging’ in the Białowieża Forest. Arguing it is salvage logging, Poland is seeking to log inside the site, clearfelling forests within which there are trees that have been killed by a naturally occurring beetle infestation. Science rejects this logging as anything but destructive—proving that the dead trees are important for the survival of a range of unique species including woodpeckers, and that beetle attacks are part of naturally occurring processes.
Similar to when it rejected Australia’s desire to de-list part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, Portugal again led the charge within the Committee, robustly rejecting the attempt to change the draft decision and rallying other member countries behind it. While Kazakhstan, acting on behalf of Poland, sought to change the drafted decision to allow logging, the weight of numbers was behind retaining a strong decision that rejected logging.
The Committee seeks to work on consensus, going to a vote on the most contentious decisions only (usually those involving Israel and Palestine). So, after some tense moments between the competing countries, the committee resolved to support Portugal and request Poland to rule out logging.
An underlying theme of this World Heritage Committee meeting is ‘Solidarity with Aleppo’, a reference to the parallels between WWII Warsaw and modern day Aleppo. Central Warsaw is now a World Heritage site, but not before it was completely obliterated in the 1940s and faithfully rebuilt in the following decades to restore the built cultural heritage and associated values.
It is important to reflect on the destruction of human heritage, through deliberate acts of desecration as has occurred at Palmyra at the hand of ISIS, and as collateral damage through the process of war.
While nothing can surpass the human tragedy currently playing out in Syria and other parts of the Middle East, what is happening to built heritage—including World Heritage sites—is truly devastating. The Committee today considered a long list of ancient properties, across Syria and Yemen, that are on the World Heritage in Danger list because of the destruction being wrought by the civil conflict currently playing out in those countries. With near breakdown of governance (a total breakdown in Yemen), the World Heritage Centre and its expert advisors do not even have the capacity to visit the sites to establish the damage to values, and work with the countries on rehabilitation. Until these wars end, the destruction will continue and the task of assessment and ultimately restoration just gets harder and harder.
Interestingly, one of the issues the expert body on cultural heritage identified was the desperate, ad hoc rebuilding of shattered cities with modern materials and non-traditional methods, rendering restoration of the original heritage sites near-impossible.
We can look to Warsaw for positive inspiration and example—but sadly, replacing the first brick in a dedicated reconstruction effort in places like Aleppo still looks some way off.
Tuesday, 4 July 2017
Today was one of those days that witnessed the best, worst and most curious of all things World Heritage.
The Committee itself was debating World Heritage sites on the ‘in danger’ list. This means these sites are under such pressure—from development, illegal logging or poaching, war, climate change or other pressures—that they are listed as ‘in danger’ and attract special attention and strategies to try to get them stabilised and off the list.
In a rare good news story in this agenda item, after 14 years on the ‘in danger’ list, the Comoé National Park in Cote d’Ivoire was removed, much to the celebration of its delegation and congratulations of the whole meeting, who broke into applause.
Comoé National Park has long been under pressure from civil unrest, poaching, land clearing and general mismanagement that comes about as a result of a lack of resources and a government in crisis. It was so good to see the delegation celebrate their success.
Closer to home, the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra in Aceh, Indonesia, rightly remained on the ‘in danger’ list—despite the efforts and frustrations of the Indonesian Government. Not enough has been done to tackle illegal logging, land clearing and palm oil establishment within the incredible Leuser Ecosystem. This is the last place in Asia where rhinoceros, tigers, elephants and orangutans all exist in the same landscape, and has long been the focus of colleague campaigners and organisations.
Meanwhile, Białowieża Forest was again a focus of protest action—with pro-protection and pro-logging rallies organised out the front of the Committee meeting and facing off against each other. In another curiously remarkable resemblance to the politics and tactics of past Tasmanian pro-logging campaigns, workers were bussed into the venue and supplied banners and flags for their protest. Białowieża will be on the agenda for discussion by the Committee tomorrow, and—as Poland is both the host country and taking such a hostile move against World Heritage by seeking a de-listing—we’re all waiting with anticipation to watch how it unfolds.
During the lunch break, in a reality check on the dire situation facing many natural World Heritage sites thanks to climate change, a side event presented scientific research into the impact of climate change on coral reefs.
We’ve all seen the tragedy unfolding on the Great Barrier Reef, but sadly this is occurring across many tropical reef systems across the world, including other World Heritage-listed sites.
In a sobering testament to the problem, legendary Australian coral scientist Charlie Veron made the comment that no longer can people see coral like that which he experienced when he started researching 35 years ago… it is simply not there anymore. It’s quite remarkable that, under these circumstances, we have a Queensland and Federal Government still prepared to approve one of the biggest coal mines in the world, the Adani mine.
But it got more sobering again… and it simply does not get heavier than a visit to the Auschwitcz-Birkenau Nazi concentration and death camp.
As part of World Heritage Committee meetings, the host country organises optional field trips to local World Heritage sites, and I decided to take the afternoon out and take them up on their offer. Listed as World Heritage in 1979 for the very worst reasons, the camp is just 50km from Krakow. Over 1.3 million Poles, Jews, Gypsies and Soviet prisoners of war were transported to Auschwitz between 1939 and 1945, and an estimated 1.1 million people were murdered there.
While far from pleasant, it was a powerful experience and important lesson on World Heritage. It’s a reminder that, whilst built cultural World Heritage sites like the Taj Mahal, Pyramids, Machu Picchu and Stonehenge provide us with inspiration, awe and wonder about the creativity and genius of human civilisation, those like Auschwitz serve to remind us of the depths to which we can stoop.
Monday, 3 July 2017
The 41st session of the World Heritage Committee has officially kicked off, with a formal opening ceremony and reception on Sunday evening, followed by a full day of meeting activities.
The opening ceremony was held in the courtyard of the Wawel Royal Castle, part of the World Heritage-listed Historic Centre of Krakow.
This is a spectacular mish-mash of buildings, on a site occupied for tens of thousands of years. As Krakow became a centre of trading routes in the region, it was the seat of power. In the 1500s, the royal family revamped existing buildings into their Royal Palace.
The opening ceremony focused on the incredible value of World Heritage sites and the overarching responsibility to manage and protect them on behalf of all humanity. There was much mention of past and present atrocities, from the Holocaust (Auschwitz is a short drive from Krakow) and total destruction of Warsaw in the Second World War, to the current-day tragedy playing out in Syria.
A highlight of the night was the guerrilla action by Polish forest campaigners, printing and distributing paper napkins with a message about protecting Białowieża Forest. Białowieża is a World Heritage-listed old growth forest straddling the Polish/Belarusian border, about to be discussed at the World Heritage Committee meeting.
In a disturbing echo of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s attempt to de-list pats of Tasmania’s World Heritage Area, the far-right Polish Government is seeking to have its World Heritage status removed, to allow logging under the guise of salvage logging—following naturally occurring, cyclical beetle infestations that can kill some of the trees.
There’s a major public demonstration planned for tomorrow, in the lead up to the Committee’s deliberations on the issues. Let’s hope they draw inspiration and precedent from the unequivocal rejection of Tony Abbott’s stupid plan from 2014.
On a good note, while the Committee’s deliberations today were largely procedural, it did admit two more countries into the list of States Parties who have ratified the World Heritage Convention. In signing the Convention, South Sudan and Timor-Leste make a total of 193 countries worldwide who have committed to protect World Heritage on behalf of all humanity.
Twenty one States Parties make up the World Heritage Committee and will spend the next nine days discussing and deciding on issues with regard to World Heritage sites, like new ones to put on the World Heritage list; existing ones that are experiencing problems and could end up as World Heritage in Danger; and, in positive cases, sites that can come off the ‘in danger’ list.
We’ve had a couple of good meetings about the situation in Tassie already, and met plenty of inspiring people beavering away to protect and promote their patch of World Heritage.
Sunday, 2 July 2017
Well...Witamy w Polsce!! ('Welcome to Poland!!')
After missing last year's World Heritage Committee meeting in Istanbul because of security concerns (airport bombing and an attempted coup), it's great to be back to reconnect with familiar and inspiring faces, and discuss some of the Earth's most precious and delicate places—its World Heritage sites.
The Wilderness Society last attended the World Heritage Committee meeting in Bonn, Germany in 2015, to help achieve a clear goal of rejection of the Hodgman Government's plans to log inside the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA). Before that, we were in Doha to make sure Tony Abbott's attempt to de-list part of the TWWHA was defeated. And, in 2013, we were in Phnom Penh in Cambodia to see 170,000ha of the most spectacular threatened forests finally added to the TWWHA after decades of work by hundreds, if not thousands, of people. This year, the meeting is in World Heritage-listed Krakow in Poland, and I'm again attending with Vienna-based former Wilderness Society campaigner Luke Chamberlain, and long-time Tasmanian wilderness campaigner, Geoff Law.
This year, things are a bit different. The Committee doesn't have our World Heritage Area on its agenda for consideration. But we're here to maintain relationships and highlight one critical outstanding issue. This is the fact that, despite repeatedly being told by UNESCO to protect wilderness from inappropriate tourism development, the Tasmanian and Australian Governments have finalised a management plan for the area that allows the degradation of wilderness for private, commercial interests—like huts developments on the South Coast Track. The Committee will consider this next year, so we're here to do some prep work.
Part of that has been participating in the World Heritage Watch Conference. This is a fabulous two days of networking, learning and sharing experiences in the days leading up to the Committee meeting. This year, I presented a paper on the issues confronting the World Heritage Area in Tasmania, and how our governments are failing to honour their commitments to the international community to protect wilderness.
Interestingly, whether it's President Putin's attempt to build a ski resort in the Western Caucasus World Heritage Area (complete with his own excision proposal) or development destroying rice paddies in the World Heritage listed cultural landscape of Bali, tourism and the impacts it brings is a constant theme of the pressures and threats to World Heritage Areas and their values.
And of course, we wouldn't come here without flying the flag for the takayna/Tarkine—Tasmania's World Heritage-in-waiting. We are again talking to people about the values of the area, distributing our case for the region to be added to the TWWHA, and recruiting supporters and advocates in the World Heritage arena.
Keep reading over the next week as I communicate the highs (and lows) of the world's natural and cultural heritage, and our efforts to get the Australian and Tasmanian Governments to actually do what they said they'd do: protect and respect wilderness as a critical value, with a proper management strategy for the part of the Earth that we look after on behalf of all humanity... the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.