* Royal Dutch Shell first among oil majors to halt activity
* South Africa, Australia have protection in domestic law
* Virunga in Democratic Republic of Congo among sites at
By Barbara Lewis
LONDON, Sept 5 The world's biggest mining
companies called on Monday for action to stop any firms,
including the oil and gas industry, extracting resources from
natural sites protected by the United Nations.
In 2003, the International Council on Mining and Metals
(ICMM), which groups 23 firms including BHP Billiton
, Rio , Anglo American and
Glencore, agreed to halt mining in World Heritage Sites
as part of a remit to make mining more sustainable.
"Yet 13 years later, other companies and industries are
still operating in these precious sites," ICMM CEO Tom Butler
told the Congress of the International Union for the
Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Hawaii.
"The ecosystems that underpin our economies, well-being and
survival are collapsing," he wrote in a blog. "The message is
clear: we need urgent and collaborative action."
Royal Dutch Shell was the only oil and gas firm to
join the ICMM in 2003 in making heritage sites "a no go area"
and on Monday it reaffirmed its pledge. French oil firm Total
and Tullow Oil have also made a commitment.
But other big oil companies have not followed suit and the
ICMM, whose members are responsible for about a third of global
metal production, have also failed to recruit the rest of their
industry to pledge to respect U.N. protected sites.
UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and
Cultural Organization) said 59 out of 203 protected sites had
been formally reported to the World Heritage Committee as facing
a threat from extractive industries.
Apart from government bans, UNESCO said private sector
action could be effective. For instance, funding bodies could
withhold cash for development in sensitive areas.
Among governments, Australia and South Africa out of the 192
countries that ratified the World Heritage convention have
enshrined this protection in domestic legislation.
The International Association of Oil and Gas Producers,
which collectively produce more than a third of the world's oil
and gas, said in a statement, "our members' operations are
carried out complying with the relevant legislation".
It said new technology could minimise the drilling
footprint, for instance by horizontal drilling.
One threatened area is Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World
Heritage Site in Democratic Republic of Congo, which is a
habitat of exceptional biodiversity and home to endangered
gorillas, elephants and other species.
British oil company Soco International said in
November it no longer held the exploration licence for a block,
of which about half lies within Virunga, after ceasing
operations following human rights protests and a campaign by
conservation group WWF.
Conservationists say Virunga is still vulnerable. Apart from
oil exploration rights, its mineral wealth includes gold,
diamonds, tantalum, used in mobile phones, and tin, WWF said.
(additional reporting by Susan Taylor in Toronto; editing by