Removing World Heritage by request?

Last week the Coalition announced that, if elected, it would seek to have the recently approved extension of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area removed. Can a World Heritage Area be delisted by request?

Extending the Tasmanian Wilderness
The recent extension to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) was approved by the World Heritage Committee in June this year. It adds 172,276 hectares to the northern and eastern boundaries of the Area, increasing the TWWHA by 12 per cent (see map). This is the fourth extension to the Area since it was listed in 1982.

The new areas contribute to the Outstanding Universal Values identified in the TWWHA, such as exceptional natural beauty and biological diversity. The extension adds habitat for the endangered Tasmanian devil and wedge-tailed eagle, as well as limestone caves and a listed endangered ecological community.

The Tasmanian Wilderness WHA and the Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreement
The listing of the TWWHA extension was one of the key provisions of the Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreement. The Agreement, signed by the Australian and Tasmanian governments, is designed to protect high value conservation forests while guaranteeing wood supply for Tasmania’s native forest industry. It was the result of negotiations between Tasmanian industry and conservation groups. Signing of the agreement was heralded as an end to the decades-long dispute between forestry and conservation interests and uncertainty in the native forest industry. The Tasmania Forests Agreement Act 2013 (TFA Act) was created to guarantee wood supply to industry and protection for forests, including World Heritage listing, for conservation groups.

Extension and buffer zones
The majority of the extension includes areas that were previously listed as buffer zones to the TWWHA, which were required to have legal protection complementary to the values of the WHA. Those areas will now be incorporated but no new buffer zones have been identified. The majority of World Heritage Areas in Australia do not have buffer zones due to the protection provided by the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). The original boundaries of the TWWHA were established a decade before the EPBC Act was created.

The extension also covers areas of native forest that have previously been used for logging, mining and other industries. However, the new TWWHA does not include existing and committed mining areas, access roads and bridges, the Poatina Hydro Power Station and some ongoing logging coups.

Coalition opposition to TWWHA extension
The Tasmanian Liberal party opposed the TFA Act during debate in the Tasmanian House of Assembly. They raised a number of issues regarding the TWWHA extension, including the lack of consultation, the absence of a buffer zone and the ‘locking up’ of productive timber and mineral areas. The Tasmanian Legislative Select Committee’s inquiry into the TFA Act noted that no consultation was carried out with the public or landowners, as this was not a legal requirement.

Last week the federal Coalition announced that, if elected, they would seek to have the recently approved extension of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area removed. It stated that the extension “was put in place against the will of the Tasmanian people”.

Process for delisting a World Heritage Area
There is no procedure for Australia to directly remove the extension to the TWWHA. The World Heritage Convention’s Operational Guidelines do not include any protocol for removing an Area while its Outstanding Universal Values remain intact. So it would seem that only the World Heritage Committee has the authority to decide to remove an area from the World Heritage List.

Only two WHAs have been removed previously; Germany’s Dresden Elbe Valley and Oman’s Arabian Oryx Sanctuary. Both were removed after the World Heritage Committee decided that the Outstanding Universal Values of those Areas were compromised or had been lost completely. It is therefore unclear at present how an elected Coalition government could proceed in removing the extension of the TWWHA from the World Heritage List.

Image: Area of Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, with the latest extension in orange.


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