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Why wilderness regions urgently need the UN’s protection

World Heritage Sites are landmarks recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO. These sites are legally safeguarded by international treaties. Natural World Heritage Sites, or NWHS, are those which contain the world’s most valuable natural assets. A recent evaluation of the Natural World Heritage Sites determined that only 1.8 percent of wilderness that exists within these sites is currently protected.

Researchers from the University of Queensland analyzed the current state of  NWHS habitats across the globe.  The study concluded that urgent attention is needed from UNESCO to initiate the conservation of wilderness areas contained in Natural World Heritage Sites.

James Allan is a University of Queensland PhD student in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences and lead author of the study.

“Globally important wilderness areas are increasingly being shown as not only strongholds for endangered biodiversity, but critical in the fight to abate climate change, for regulating local climates, and supporting many of the world’s most culturally diverse but politically and economically marginalised communities,” said Allan.

While some sites including Okavango Delta in Botswana and Purnululu National Park in Australia were found to have exceptional wilderness coverage, the team discovered broad gaps in wilderness coverage in the UN-declared landmarks across the globe.

“Despite their importance, wilderness areas are being destroyed at an alarming rate and need urgent protection, explained Allan. “The World Heritage Convention has the ability to do this by improving wilderness coverage within Natural World Heritage Sites.”

James Watson, senior author of the study, expressed “an urgent need for a global environmental convention to recognize the importance of conserving wilderness before it is too late.”

“The World Heritage Convention can better achieve its own objectives by increasing wilderness coverage within NWHS, which in turn will raise the profile of wilderness conservation globally, and provide wilderness areas with additional protection they need. It is a win-win situation,” said Watson.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Source: University of Queensland

Image Credit: Gregoire Dubois

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