#UNESCO – Economy of Heritage

| July 25, 2019

The 43rd session of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee in Baku chaired by Azerbaijan’s Minister of Culture Abulfas Garayev ended on July 10. Delegations from 21 Member States that constitute the World Heritage Committee as well as observers from States Parties to the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (1972) participated in the session. About 2.5 thousand representatives from more than 180 countries of the world attended the event. Following the meeting, 10 new sites were added to the List of World Heritage with it currently including 1102 sites in 67 countries of the world.

The traditional reasons for the sites inclusion that meet the UNESCO´s List of World Heritage requirements are the enhancement community image, additional environmental guarantees and the high-priority attraction of additional investment flows.

Image benefits for heritage sites are obvious – for example, the Mayor of Venice Luigi Brugnaro recently appealed to the Organization to include the city in the List of World Heritage sites in danger of disappearing. This will be a significant argument in a dialogue with the Italian government for the gradual reduction of tourist flow causing accidents similar to the collision that occurred between the cruise liner and the motorship on one of the central canals of the city in early July.

However, the economic benefits of being listed are not immediately apparent. The status of a World Heritage site is rather used as a prohibitive mechanism aimed at preventing the use of the real potential of human monuments. In this regard, it is hardly possible to write off the market logic of the decision to withdraw from UNESCO made by the United States, regardless of stated political reasons. For instance, the cumulative benefit of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Yellowstone National Park to the US economy exceeded $ 647 million for the year, which, by the way, would cover the remaining debts after the country’s withdrawal from the Organization. At the same time, the total income from the activities of all national parks in the United States in 2018 exceeded $ 1.5 billion.

One of the sites included in the list this year is the Vatnajökull National Park in Iceland, which covers 8% of the state’s territory. The support from UNESCO will happen to be convenient in the light of the decision taken by the government of the country in April to build the replica of the “wall” like in the “Game of Thrones” series to increase the tourist flow. However, the level of support and its quality will be determined additionally.

Virtually the Organization does not have genuine tools for giving an additional impetus to the sustainable development of the economy of the site location region. The example of the aforementioned national parks makes it quite evident. As for an effective economic model, bringing significant profits to regional budgets, UNESCO has nothing to offer in order to boost the pace of development. Getting back to Yellowstone National Park, for the past three years its profitability has not fallen below $ 630 million, thus allowing it to establish more than 7,000 jobs and ensure more than $ 500 million in the total budget of municipalities. In addition to the above, business activities of the park are focused on improving local community welfare.

UNESCO postulates the same focus but uses completely different tools for achieving prosperity. The Organization invests in maintaining the viability of the national parks ecosystems, however considers the economic stability of the local community as an issue that can be solved through long-term traditional crafts development. The mere fact of it contradicts the technological progress logic and current need for constant budget increase of cities and settlements surrounding national parks that are under the Organization protection.

For example, the possibility of building the “Three Volcano” tourist cluster in Kamchatka, Russia, is currently under discussion. The project also includes a part of the Kamchatka Volcanoes heritage site, which implies a long procedure to coordinate their use. In this regard, the project, which can annually attract up to 400,000 tourists to a remote Russian region, thus filling the local budget and further UNESCO brand promotion, could be reviewed.

Even more critical situation occurred in Yugyd Va National Park, the Republic of Komi. The Swiss government, the German World Heritage Foundation and a number of other international institutions have been investing in the park’s ecological tourism development since 1995. Despite that, the total number of tourists in 2018 barely exceeded 7,000 people. The number of jobs doesn’t reimburse the critical need for work in the region due to the coalmine closure that provided with work about 2,000 people from the nearest to the park town, Inta. The region has a historically formed minerals cluster, which was actively developed in the Soviet years — large deposits of quartz, gold, molybdenum, manganese, copper, various types of coal and minerals are contained in the cluster. The local government is ready to offer a solution to close this disproportion by expanding the boundaries of the UNESCO-listed National Park. Nevertheless, the Organization adheres to a formal prohibitive position, ignoring the arguments about the erroneous inclusion of industrial facilities in the park´s territory during its creation twenty-five years ago.

Nowadays, there is no agreed position among Russian environmental organizations – some actively support the National Park expansion, believing that this won´t harm regional ecology and fully contributes to the balanced Republic development and nature preservation. Others, in particular Greenpeace, believes the border changes, even the National Park’s territory expansion may be wrongful. They believe that clarifying Yugyd Va National Park´s boundaries in the Republic of Komi with the aim of the fourfold forest belt attachment to the park and deriving the historically industrial Kozhim mining cluster from its territory, for some reason, will be worse than keeping the borders intact.

The lack of flexibility and UNESCO´s out of touch position regarding the World Heritage listed sites development cause more disputes and are unlikely to cover the entire related image-building advantages even in perspective of 10-15 years. Despite the absolute importance of the Organization’s exact activities   the principal issue on the development agenda, after the selection of new Heritage sites, should be the implementation of structural reforms aimed to increase effectiveness of the activities directed to improve flexibility and balance of interests when it comes to funds allocation and Heritage sites protection.

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