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Science Informing Policy Symposium Series

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Australia's World Heritage: Keeping the Outstanding Exceptional

9-10 August 2012 | Cairns


The Australia's World Heritage: Keeping the Outstanding Exceptional symposium was the third in the ACIUCN Science Informing Policy Symposium Series.

This symposium was Australia’s major acknowledgement of the 40th Anniversary of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention – a Convention which has played a significant role in the history of environmental issues in Australia. Over 100 experts from government, non-government, academia and Indigenous sectors attended the World Heritage symposium and both the Federal and State Environment Ministers addressed the conference.

To become a World Heritage site is like winning the Nobel Prize - it means an area has been judged by international experts to be the best of the best. This is summed up in a statement of “Outstanding Universal Value” for each site accepted by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. With this high recognition comes an equally high obligation to apply the highest standards of protection, as we put it – “to keep the outstanding exceptional.”

This was the purpose of the symposium – to assess how Australia measured up against this very high goal and to look for ways in which we could better fulfil the profound commitment embodied in the words ‘World Heritage’ to protect and present these wonderful places to current and future generations.

The Symposium was driven by the realisation that despite Australia having generally very high standards of management, Australian sites like all World Heritage Areas face challenges, some constituting serious threats to the Outstanding Universal Value of sites. There was also concern that public understanding and overall commitment to World Heritage may have slipped.

The need for deep thinking and planning for World Heritage has been given sharp focus by the well - publicised threats to the future of the Great Barrier Reef posed by agricultural run-off and ports and shipping related to large scale industrial development. The strategic responses to these concerns by both state and Commonwealth governments gave the Symposium high relevance and the detailed discussions could hold lessons well beyond Australia.


Guiding policy advice:

The symposium brought together over 100 of Australia's leading experts on World Heritage, as well as the federal and state environment Ministers. The advice and expertise harnessed during the event have been collated into a peer-reviewed publication which harnesses the key input and policy advice of the symposium contributors.

The publication Keeping the Outstanding Exceptional: the Future of World Heritage in Australia includes the ‘Cairns Communique’, a statement by the symposium which outlines key steps to improve management of these iconic parts of Australia for all time.

Additionally, ACIUCN commissioned a snapshot report to highlight trends, issues, and achievements in Australian World Heritage Area management in collaboration with the Macquarie University Graduate School of the Environment. Designed around five thematic areas the World Heritage Convention - governance, resources, capacity building, community engagement and key opportunities and threats - the report provides a voice for on ground managers, and represents the culmination of responses provided by managers for fourteen of the sixteen Australian World Heritage areas listed for their outstanding ‘natural’ and ‘mixed’ (natural/cultural) values.

Both reports can be accessed via the link below.


Access the publication

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Symposium partners:

The symposium was made possible in partnership with the Wet Tropics Management Authority and supported by the Australian Conservation Foundation. The publication was supported by a grant from the Department of Sustainability, Environment Water Population and Communities.

The Science Informing Policy Symposium Series

Find out more about ACIUCN's flagship event series the Science Informing Policy Symposium Series. Bringing together leading Australian and international environmental experts from across governments, NGOs and academia to advise on best practice environmental policy and decision making.

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