It's rare to report really good news on the protection of Belize's natural wonders, but tonight even UNESCO has acknowledged that a moratorium on offshore drilling has made a huge difference.
A draft decision has been taken to de list the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System as a World Heritage Site in Danger. The Final decision of the World Heritage Committee will be made at the end of June at UNESCO's 42nd meeting in Bahrain.
But the draft decision says, quote, "The significant progress made by (Belize)…is commendable, particularly the enactment of a moratorium on oil exploration and other petroleum operations within the entire maritime zone of Belize…it can be concluded that the Desired State of Conservation for Removal (from the list)…has been achieved and it is therefore recommended that the Committee remove the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger."
Committee recommends Belize Barrier Reed removed from the List of World Heritage sites in Danger
The significant progress made by the State Party towards achieving the DSOCR is commendable, particularly the enactment of a moratorium on oil exploration and other petroleum operations within the entire maritime zone of Belize, whereby Indicator 3 of the DSOCR, related to protection of the property from possible oil operations, has been fully met and exceeded.
Further revision and amendment of the EIA Checklist and the corresponding ongoing revision of the EIA Regulations to include specific consideration of potential impacts on the OUV of the property are also welcomed. However, it appears that the provisions to specifically consider potential impacts on the OUV of the property were only included in the checklist for mining projects, but not tourism or other types of projects. It is recommended that the Committee urge the State Party to ensure that the EIA Checklist includes these provisions for all types of projects and to finalize the remaining steps in the legal adoption of the revised EIA Regulations. Provided that the State Party assures full implementation of these measures, including in the short term, the inclusion of these specific provisions, together with other instruments discussed below, can be considered to provide an adequate framework for ensuring that no development occurs within the property and in its vicinity that would negatively impact its OUV. Together with the progress reported in the further implementation of the ICZMP which also includes specific guidelines defining appropriate types of development, this therefore addresses Indicators 2 and 4 of the DSOCR, which relate to protection of the property from development which might have negative impacts on its OUV, and integrated management of the property, respectively. However, it will be important to secure sufficient resources for the implementation of the ICZMP in the longer term.
Further progress achieved by the State Party in the revision and official adoption of the Forests (Protection of Mangroves) Regulations, and the findings of the study on mangrove cover, should also be welcomed. With the adoption of the Mangroves Regulation and the confirmation of the current extent of mangrove cover within the property, significant progress has been achieved towards meeting Indicator 1 of the DSOCR, related to the maintenance of the mangrove cover within the property. Protection of mangroves should be strengthened further through the development of a legally binding moratorium on sales and lease of public lands within the property. However, the State Party notes that, while a voluntary moratorium on sales and leases of lands within the property remains in force, development of a legally binding instrument can only be undertaken following a detailed assessment of land tenure which will require additional time. Initiation of such a process and a methodology have already been agreed, with the proposal to declare remaining public lands as reserves once the land tenure has been officially verified. Under these circumstances, taking into account the State Party’s commitment to finalize the process in 2018, it can be concluded that the objective of DSOCR Indicator 1 has been met. However, given the fact that a significant proportion of lands within the property which have no protection status has already been sold or leased, further efforts should be focused on ensuring that revised regulations on development, such as the Mangroves and the EIA Regulations, are efficiently implemented and enforced in order to ensure that no development occurs on these private lands that would have any negative impacts on the OUV of the property.
Overall, it can be concluded that the DSOCR has been achieved and it is therefore recommended that the Committee remove the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger, and request the State Party to continue reporting on further progress achieved on the outstanding matters outlined above, and in the draft decision below.