Nearly half of all natural world heritage sites are threatened by harmful industrial activities, such as oil and gas exploration, mining and illegal logging, according to a new report released Wednesday by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
The report, titled "Protecting People through Nature: Natural World Heritage Sites as Drivers of Sustainable Development", detailed global failures to protect UNESCO World Heritage sites.
According to the study, 114 natural and mixed World Heritage sites out of 229 either have oil, gas or mining concessions overlapping them or are under threat from at least one other harmful industrial activity.
For example, the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, the second largest coral reef system in the world, is shown to be at risk from unsustainable coastal construction, large-scale mangrove clearance, harmful agricultural run-off and the potential of dangerous oil exploration.
"World Heritage sites should receive the highest levels of protection, yet we are often unable to safeguard even this important fraction of the Earth's surface," said Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International.
"We all agree that these are some of the most valuable and unique places on the planet, now we need to work together to let these sites provide for the well-being of people and nature," Lambertini noted.
WWF is asking the private sector to make no go commitments to refrain from activities that threaten to degrade World Heritage sites. Financing should also be withheld from projects involving harmful industrial activities in World Heritage sites or the companies conducting them.
In addition, national governments should ensure that no harmful industrial activities are permitted in World Heritage sites or in areas that could negatively affect them.