Mining Firms Pledge to Leave World Heritage Sites Alone

PARIS, France, August 26, 2003 (ENS) - UNESCO, the United Nations agency responsible for placing the planet's most outstanding natural and cultural sites on the List of World Heritage, has hailed as “a major step forward” the pledge made by the International Council on Mining and Metals not to explore or mine in World Heritage sites.

The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) is made up of 15 of the world’s largest mining and metal producing companies. Last week they signed an undertaking to recognize existing World Heritage properties as "no-go" areas.

ICMM’s 15 corporate members are: Alcoa, Anglo American, AngloGold, BHP Billiton, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, Mitsubishi Materials, Newmont, Nippon Mining & Metals, Noranda, Pasminco, Placer Dome, Rio Tinto, Sumitomo Metal Mining, Umicore, WMC Resources.

Sir Robert Wilson, chairman of ICMM said, "We understand that the analysis of all options for land use will sometimes mean that mining projects cannot proceed because unique and sensitive biological or cultural values would be compromised if they did. We need and intend to earn the trust of other participants in the debate so we can contribute to sustainable development."


Sir Robert Wilson (Photo courtesy BG Group)
The announcement results from a dialogue process with IUCN-The World Conservation Union and and UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre that was begun earlier this year. The IUCN is an international, nongovernmental organization that serves as an advisor to the World Heritage Committee on the selection of natural heritage sites and reports back on the state of conservation of listed sites.

IUCN Director General, Achim Steiner said the ICMM decision sets an important precedent. "By making this 'no-go' pledge, 15 leading mining and metal producing companies of the world have now created a threshold for corporate responsibility against which they and, indeed, others in the extractive industry will be assessed. While many issues and objectives remain to be addressed, this is an important milestone."

ICMM members state in their undertaking that they "recognize the role of properly designated and managed protected areas in conservation strategies and the importance of national and global protected area systems."

They further "recognize that, in some cases, exploration and mining development may be incompatible with the objectives for which areas are designated for protection."

The ICMM says it "is committed to working with IUCN to strengthen its system of protected area categorization, [and that its] members recognize that sufficient reform of this system will lead to recognition of categories of protected areas as ‘no-go’ areas and others with a multiple use designation."

The undertaking signed by ICMM, includes a commitment to take all possible steps to ensure that operations carried out by member companies are not incompatible with the protection of the outstanding universal value of World Heritage properties.


The Jabiluka uranium mine in Australia's Kakadu National Park, a World Heritage Site, is operated by Energy Resources Australia, a company that did not sign the ICMM undertaking. (Photo courtesy ERA)
It also includes agreement to work with relevant partners to develop best practice guidance to enhance the industry’s contribution to biodiversity conservation, including in and around protected areas.

“The commitment by ICMM member companies recognizing World Heritage properties as ‘no-go’ areas is a major step forward in ensuring long-term conservation of these sites, wrote Francesco Bandarin, the director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, in a letter to ICMM after the announcement.

“UNESCO and its World Heritage Centre welcome this statement by the major mining companies, which we hope will significantly reduce the direct or indirect threats by mining to cultural and natural heritage all over the world,” Bandarin wrote.

In recent years concerns over the impact of mining activities have been raised at a number of natural sites and sites that contain both natural and cultural treasures.

World Heritage sites, including Kakadu National Park in Australia's Northern Territory, Lorentz National Park in Indonesia, Huascaràn National Park in Peru), Doñana National Park in Spain, and the Greater St. Lucia Wetlands Park in South Africa, have been mined.

UNESCO’s World Heritage List comprises sites that are considered to be of “outstanding universal value.” There are now 754 sites on the list, including 582 cultural, 149 natural and 23 mixed sites. There are 35 properties on the List of World Heritage Danger.