Timothy E. Wirth
introduces the United Nations Foundation’s work to conserve some of the world’s most important areas for biodiversity

Over the last five years the United Nations Foundation has made conserving biodiversity an organizational priority. We have chosen to focus on UNESCO’s World Heritage Biodiversity sites, because these areas hold biological significance for the entire global community, and are a common inheritance of humankind.

Timely, targeted
We have worked to strengthen the efforts of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre by providing timely and targeted grants totalling $32 million to the most threatened World Heritage Biodiversity sites, and by promoting key partnerships between the agency and other technical and funding organizations such as Conservation International, the Worldwide Fund For Nature (WWF), the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Charles Darwin Foundation, AVEDA Corporation and the Walt Disney Conservation Fund. UN Foundation support is now benefiting more than 50 designated or potential Natural World Heritage sites throughout the world – from the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador to the Cardamom Mountains in Cambodia.

We hope that our example inspires others. WWF and Conservation International have committed to integrate World Heritage as a core priority of their work, and have established a partnership with the UN Foundation which will allow millions to be spent in and around these sites over the next decade. The Global Environment Facility has provided more than $45 million in parallel funding to UN Foundation initiatives. We are working in World Heritage sites with local NGOs as well as the United Nations Development Programme,, the Food and Agriculture Organization and UNESCO – and, of course, UNEP is a most important partner, not least in our vital joint work to conserve coral reefs.

This summer, the UN Foundation Board of Directors expanded our commitment to World Heritage to include a Rapid Response Facility. With support from the UN Foundation, the World Heritage Centre, Fauna and Flora International and IUCN-The World Conservation Union, the Rapid Response Facility will deliver timely financial assistance to sites facing emergency needs or threats, such as civil instability, refugee movements, oil spills, natural calamities or illegal resource exploitation.
UNESCO’s World Heritage Biodiversity sites are a common inheritance of humankind
Depending on the scale of the problem and time-frame of the response needed, grants of up to $100,000 will provide technical assistance to local site managers or NGOs to assess emerging threats and promptly address conservation challenges facing World Heritage Biodiversity sites in developing countries. These grants will also help build the capacity of site managers to implement projects and mobilize needed financial support and political will for the protection of endangered sites.

Rights, democracy, education
We also believe that it is essential that the US Congress supports President Bush’s commitment to rejoin UNESCO by 1 October 2003. The President believes that UNESCO is important to promoting and protecting human rights, democracy and education around the world, and that makes America – and all countries – more secure. With dramatic reforms in place the agency is more important than ever. With full United States involvement it can become an even more powerful force in the fight for freedom and democracy – not to speak of improving its work to safeguard some of the world’s most biologically important protected areas, World Heritage Biodiversity sites

Timothy E. Wirth is President of the United Nations Foundation.

PHOTOGRAPH: Stephen Graham/UNEP/Topham

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Töpfer | Biological backbone | Benefits beyond boundaries | Common inheritance | Beauty or beast? | Wonders of the world | Protecting heritage | People | Parks and participation | At a glance: Protected Areas | Profile: Harrison Ford | Scorecard, catalyst, watershed | Coral Reef Fund | Coral jewels | Reef knots | Brief window for biodiversity | Books & products | Conservation amid conflict | News | Green, red or black? | Keeping faith with nature | Make parks not war

Complementary articles in other issues:
Issue on WSSD, 2002
Issue on Biological Diversity, 2000
Issue on Culture, Values and the Environment, 1996

AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment: