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Study Shows Life-supporting Role of Natural World Heritage Sites

Children in Simien National Park, Ethiopia
Children in Simien National Park, World Heritage Site, Ethiopia. © IUCN Photo Library / Peter Howard

Sydney, Australia – Natural World Heritage sites are not just iconic places with exceptional nature, they also provide benefits that contribute to economies, climate stability and human wellbeing, according to a new study by IUCN released in November at the IUCN World Parks Congress.

The report highlights the economic benefits and cost-effectiveness of preserving the exceptional World Heritage values of UNESCO-listed natural areas. It also shows that the benefits provided by World Heritage sites decrease due to changes in landscape, as well as over-exploitation of resources.

Funded by Germany’s Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, the study is the first assessment of the benefits and ecosystem services provided by the world’s natural wonders. It also presents a global analysis of carbon storage and water provided by the sites, using latest data including remote sensing, compiled by the United Nations Environment Programme‘s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC).

“The findings of this report show that natural World Heritage is much more than a list of iconic sites with outstanding biodiversity and natural beauty,” says Tim Badman, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme. “Recognising their crucial role in supporting our wellbeing reinforces the need to boost our efforts to conserve these places.”

Two-thirds of natural sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List are crucial sources of water and about half help prevent natural disasters such as floods or landslides, according to the report. Over 90% of listed natural sites provide income from tourism and recreation, and create jobs.

For example, the total value of jobs, tourism-related income and food provided by Spain’s Doñana National Park, is estimated at €570 million annually.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef generates about AUS $ 250 million a year from fishing and provides income to traditional Aboriginal owners who play a crucial role in sustainably managing parts of the reef. Tourism revenue from the Great Barrier Reef is worth more than AUS $ 5.2 billion annually.

South Africa’s Cape Town relies on Cape Floral Protected Areas for clean water and Dominica’s Morne Trois Pitons National Park provides 60% of water consumed by local communities.

In India and Bangladesh, the Sundarbans’ 2,200 km mangrove coastline offers flood protection, which would otherwise require an investment of US $ 300 million in man-made infrastructure.

“Natural World Heritage sites enhance our lives economically, as well as socially, culturally and spiritually – the full range of benefits they provide goes far beyond monetary gain,” says Dr. Beate Jessel, President of the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation. “It is our collective responsibility to ensure that we care for these inspiring places and maintain their values so that future generations can continue to enjoy them.”

In Australia’s Kakadu National Park, shared management with the traditional Aboriginal owners combines indigenous knowledge with modern conservation practice. World Heritage values recognise 65,000 years of living Aboriginal culture that has sustained the park’s globally important landscape and wildlife.

Natural World Heritage sites also contribute to global climate stability by storing significant amounts of carbon, according to the report. Forests found in World Heritage sites across the tropical regions store 5.7 billion tons of carbon, which – if released to the atmosphere – would increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Natural World Heritage sites are globally recognized as the world’s most important protected areas, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List for their unique natural values, such as the scale of natural habitats, intactness of ecological processes, viability of populations of rare species, as well as exceptional natural beauty.

The report features a total of 23 case studies, highlighting how each site provides a unique set of benefits.


Check the following link to read/download the Full Report – “The Benefits of Natural World Heritage: Identifying and Assessing Ecosystem Services and Benefits provided by the World’s Most Iconic Natural Places”:


Source: IUCN.