One of the world’s largest oil and gas companies, Total, has committed to leave the planet’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites untouched, according to the United Nations. The UN says the French energy giant has sent written confirmation that it will not explore or extract fossil fuels from any of the world’s over 200 natural World Heritage Sites.
“Total’s commitment clearly shows that operating in World Heritage sites is not an option for responsible extractive industries,” Julia Marton-Lefèvre, the director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). “It gives us hope that the oil and gas, and mining sectors as a whole will fully embrace their shared responsibility towards the conservation of our planet’s most valuable and irreplaceable places.”
As easily accessible fossil fuel reserves run out, more and more companies are pursuing new reserves in formally protected areas, including World Heritage Sites. For example, Soco International is currently undertaking seismic testing in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while Pluspetrol is conducting exploration in an indigenous reserve that serves as a buffer zone to Manu National Park in Peru. Both Virunga and Manu are World Heritage Sites. In fact, data from 2011 found that a quarter of Africa’s World Heritage Sites were threatened by oil, gas, or mining projects.
Such exploitation can have impacts on World Heritage status. In 2007, the UN revoked World Heritage Status from Oman’s Arabian Oryx Sanctuary after the country reduced the park by 90 percent in order to extract oil.
While Total has committed not to operate inside World Heritage Sites, it is currently operating just outside the border of Virunga National Park.
“We call on all extractive companies, and the governments who regulate them, to declare World Heritage sites as ‘no-go’ zones,” adds Marton-Lefèvre.
Baby mountain gorilla in Virunga National Park. Virunga is home to one of only two populations of mountains gorillas in the world. Photo by: Cai Tjeenk Willink/Creative Commons 3.0.
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