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Conserving our common heritage

In this joint report, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Swiss Re Institute are collaborating to focus on the concept of spatial finance in understanding threats to World Heritage Sites (WHS). Spatial finance uses geospatial observational data – geographical information systems (GIS) – combined with machine learning to assess the risks and impact of financing and re/insurance decisions. Conclusions can be incorporated into sustainable financing and re/insurance frameworks.

The spatial finance approach can be used to assess both the long-term impacts of economic activity and short-term disaster risk management, such as oil spills.

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World Heritage Sites (WHS) include some of the most remarkable and most important landscapes on earth. They comprise locations such as the Grand Canyon, the Great Barrier Reef and the Okavango Delta. They have been internationally recognised as being of ‘Outstanding Universal Value’ and protected under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) World Heritage Convention.

Of all natural or mixed World Heritage Sites (WHS), almost half host an economic activity with potentially damaging ecological consequences. This threatens unique habitats, our natural heritage and delicate ecosystems. UNESCO has limited power to influence national governments, which might sometimes be in a difficult position to protect WHS from harm.

If humanity loses the natural environment as the foundation for life, evolution, food, shelter, medical supply, cultural and religious inspiration, what is left?
Oliver Schelske, Exploratory Research, Swiss Re Institute

Almost all major forms of economic activity require financial services, be it investment, credit or re/insurance. This gives financial service providers (FSP) significant potential leverage over economic activities in WHS. This leverage comes at a time when shareholders and stakeholders demand higher transparency and accountability.
With the concept of spatial finance, FSP have the ability to add a geo-spatial layer into risk management and due diligence processes, identifying activities in WHS or other ecologically sensitive areas.

Swiss Re has extensive risk assessment and underwriting measures in place to regulate business in sites of specific cultural or environmental value, including WHS. Our Sustainable Business Risk Framework allows for the assessment of risks related to the social and environmental consequences or re/insurance and investment transactions. It sets company-wide criteria for what we consider as acceptable business.

By working together in mutual self-interest, non-financial institutions, conservationists and FSP can help protect the integrity of WHS. Not only does it help us preserve our natural heritage, it makes sound long-term financial and business sense.

Swiss Re does not provide business support to activities that contribute to the conversion or degradation of ecologically sensitive areas, and respects specifically protected areas including World Heritage Sites.
Lasse Wallquist, Senior Sustainability Risk Manager, Group Risk Management

Swiss Re contributing authors:

  • Luzia Gysin, Sustainability Risk Manager, Group Risk Management
  • Anna Retsa, Research Analyst, Swiss Re Institute
  • Oliver Schelske, Portfolio & Program Management, Swiss Re Institute
  • Lasse Wallquist, Senior Sustainability Risk Manager, Group Risk Management

WWF contributing authors:

  • Laura Garcia-Velez, Conservation Intelligence Analyst, WWF-UK
  • Amandine Favier, Head Sustainable Finance, WWF-Switzerland
  • Pablo Izquierdo, GIS Specialist, WWF Norway
  • David Patterson, Head Conservation Intelligence, WWF UK, lead author of the report 
  • Susanne Schmitt, Nature and Spatial Finance Lead | WWF-UK 

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