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WWF calls on all banks to take action to prevent funding companies or activities that threaten endangered wildlife and local communities

A new report by WWF reveals that, despite some good practice, no major global bank has robust enough policies in place to safeguard World Heritage sites.

  • Global banks need to tighten their policies to prevent them from financing companies whose activities could damage World Heritage sites
  • Two-thirds of people expect their bank not to lend to companies involved in harmful industrial activities, such as mining and oil exploration, in UNESCO World Heritage sites
  • WWF is launching a report detailing the urgent action needed by the banking industry which shows how banks can play their part in safeguarding our critical natural capital

A WWF survey found that 66 per cent of people in the UK said that they expect their bank not to fund any activity that might cause damage to World Heritage sites.

Despite being awarded the highest levels of protection by the United Nations, almost half of all World Heritage sites listed for their natural values are threatened by harmful industrial practices such as oil and gas exploration and mining. As providers of capital, banks lend to companies whose activities have the potential to cause damage to World Heritage sites, unless they have a specific and robust enough policy in place to protect against it. These unique places are home to some of the world’s most endangered animals, such as elephants, tigers and rhinos, and help provide livelihoods to over 11 million people.

Chris Gee, Head of Campaigns, WWF-UK said:

“From the Galápagos Islands to Mount Kilimanjaro, UNESCO World Heritage sites are some of the most incredible places on earth, but decisions being made in the UK are putting them at risk. We need to be doing everything we can to prevent this. Banks are uniquely placed as they lend to companies that have the potential to cause irreversible damage to these unique sites and this could be completely avoided if they had the right policies and implementation procedures in place.

“Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef are two examples of where sites have been safeguarded from imminent threats due to campaigning, but shockingly nearly half of natural and mixed World Heritage sites are at risk from industrial activities. Banks need to take responsibility for securing the future of our World Heritage or their reputation and long-term value may be at risk.”

WWF’s report - with research undertaken by ECOFACT - looks into the role of the finance industry in safeguarding these important sites and outlines the urgent action required by banks. The report details the steps that need to be taken by banks that do not have existing guidelines as well as those that have policies in place that are not being well implemented. This includes advice on how to develop, improve and put in place a clearly worded policy, ensure it is implemented robustly, and the best ways to communicate it.

The International Council of Mining and Metals has a commitment not to operate in World Heritage sites. CEO Tom Butler said:

“Our members voluntarily decided in 2003, not to mine or explore in World Heritage sites to protect these precious places. Yet 14 years later, these sites are still at risk from other companies and industries. The conservation of World Heritage sites is a collective responsibility we all share and ICMM would like to see, in the context of financing, more banks move to support those businesses committed to acting responsibly. This will help ensure the outstanding universal value of World Heritage sites is protected for future generations.”

Notes to editors

  1. Images of World Heritage sites are available here.
  2. How banks can safeguard our world heritage is available here. The report was compiled by WWF-UK and WWF Switzerland. Research was conducted by ECOFACT.
  3. The report is part of a WWF global campaign, Together, Saving Our Shared Heritage, which launched in April 2016 to safeguard natural World Heritage sites. Over 1 million people have taken advocacy actions to political and business leaders including the leaders of Belize, Bulgaria, Spain, Mexico and Tanzania within the first 12 months of the campaign: wwf.org.uk/saveourheritage
  4. The poll of 2038 people was carried out by Populus for WWF-UK (May/June 2017).
  5. About Virunga National Park: Virunga National Park is a World Heritage site in Democratic Republic of Congo that’s home to a wealth of wildlife including critically endangered mountain gorillas. WWF campaigned against the threat posed by UK-based extractive company SOCO International. The company had been pursuing oil exploration in the park, but made the decision to halt its planned activities and pull out, writing off £43.9 million in the process.
  6. About the Great Barrier Reef: For more than a century, dumping huge amounts of dredge spoil in reef waters was the norm. But the continuing decline of Australia's icon World Heritage site sparked an international campaign to end this outdated practice. WWF and other campaigners helped persuade the Australian government to stop up to 46 million cubic metres of dredge spoil from being dumped in reef waters. That's enough dredge spoil to fill 4.6 million dump trucks.
  7. 2016 report published by WWF details the issues faced by natural World Heritage sites and how safeguarding these areas of outstanding universal value can drive sustainable development.
  8. In April 2017, WWF published a report on illegal wildlife trafficking in World Heritage sites. Despite their recognized value and protected status, the report found that illegal fishing, poaching and logging occur in nearly 50 per cent of natural World Heritage sites, driving endangered species like tigers, elephants and rhinos to the brink of extinction and putting the livelihoods and wellbeing of communities who depend on them at risk.
  9. In 2015 WWF, Aviva Investors and Investec Asset Management published a report showing that almost a third of world heritage sites listed for their natural value were under threat of oil, gas and mining exploration.

For further information, please contact: Heather Carswell I 01483 412533 I TempHCarswell@wwf.org.uk

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