Law for Protecting Natural Heritage
Applause erupted in the normally staid World Heritage Committee plenary with the announcement of the inscription of Jamaica’s first World Heritage Site on Friday. Jamaica’s Blue and John Crow Mountains site was added to the list of “mixed” cultural and natural sites, underlining the important connections between human culture and the natural environment. These connections lie at the heart of the World Heritage Convention, and in a sense underpin all human efforts to protect and conserve nature.
The World Heritage Convention establishes an obligation for each State Party to identify, protect, conserve and transmit to future generations its cultural and natural heritage. This reflects the concept of intergenerational equity, embedded in modern international environmental law. Achieving intergenerational equity requires each generation to act as caretaker of the planet, mindful of the needs of future generations.
This responsibility extends not only to those spectacular sites inscribed on the World Heritage List, like the Blue and John Crow Mountains, but to all areas important to humankind. Under the World Heritage Convention, natural heritage encompasses all natural areas “of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science, conservation or natural beauty”, including those areas not inscribed on the World Heritage List. For every spectacular site inscribed on the list, there are hundreds of natural areas of great scientific, aesthetic or conservation importance which must also be protected. Under the concept of intergenerational equity, our natural heritage, in a sense, covers the entire planet.
Realizing this protection requires strong and well implemented legal frameworks for protected areas and other forms of conservation. The IUCN Environmental Law Centre has developed a body of tools and resources for establishing and strengthening these frameworks, which it presented at a side event of the World Heritage Committee meeting on Wednesday in Bonn. These resources include ECOLEX, a database of environmental treaties, legislation, court cases, and other instruments; published guidelines on protected areas legislation andconnectivity conservation; and a set of capacity building resources on protected areas law and governance, which will be launched in September. This work is part of the Environmental Law Centre’s ongoing programme to strengthen law to protect our global natural heritage so that we may pass it on to future generations.