Some things you just can't put a price on - like World Heritage sites

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Tom Butler

World Heritage sites are in urgent need of protection. These places are often called precious, but in fact they are priceless – ‘so precious that their value cannot be determined’.

The International Council of Mining and Metals (ICMM) voluntarily agreed not to mine or explore in such places in 2003.

While this is significant, as our members produce around 40% of all metals and minerals extracted globally, it has to be said that there hasn’t exactly been a stampede from either other mining companies or the wider business sector to follow us since we made our commitment.

This is why WWF’s new report, How banks can safeguard our world heritage is important as it highlights the need for banks to implement financing policies to protect these last havens of many iconic species including half of the world’s remaining tigers and 40% of African elephants.

Last year, I attended the International Union for the Conservation of Nature where I put the case for urgent and collaborative action to protect World Heritage sites.  While I mainly focused on government action, the need for all sectors to collaborate is becoming stronger as current efforts to halt or even slow the rate of species extinction appear to be failing.

WWF’s report calls on banks to develop and implement clear policies that prohibit the provision of loans and services to clients that have the potential to damage World Heritage sites. ICMM fully concurs with this approach, as tightening conditions of financing is another way of driving more responsible corporate behaviour.  While some leading commercial banks – such as JPMorgan – have a prohibition on the use of funds for extractive activities in World Heritage sites, there is a clear need for other lenders to adopt similar policies.

On the investment side, there is also a need for investors to be more explicit about this issue. Based on our recent analysis, around 80% of the top 50 investors in ICMM member companies do apply some form of responsible investment criteria. However, it is still rare for these and other investors to reference their approach to World Heritage sites.

Both investors and lenders can play a role in encouraging operators to make World Heritage sites ‘no-go’ areas, as ICMM has done – and the next step must be for more banks, businesses and governments to prioritise their protection.

I hope that the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will inject new momentum for business, finance, governments and civil society to find new ways to collaborate to both achieve the SDGs and give greater protection to World Heritage sites.