Despite some good practice, no major global bank has policies robust enough to safeguard World Heritage sites.
This is the main finding of a report from WWF, which also reveals 66% of people in the UK expect their bank not to fund any activity that might cause damage to World Heritage sites.
Lending and risk
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 might, in the absence of specific and robust policy, cause damage to World Heritage sites.
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.
‘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.’
Head of campaigns for WWF-UK
A collective responsibility
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, and how to ensure it’s implemented robustly and communicated effectively.
In 2003, members of the International Council of Mining and Metals voluntarily decided not to mine or explore in World Heritage sites. 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.’
CEO of the International Council of Mining and Metals