Lincoln Siliakus

This morning we arrived at the World Heritage Committee meeting as 24 sites around the globe were being considered for inscription to the World Heritage list. Inscriptions today include the Decorated cave of Pont d'Arc, Ardeche in France, Okavango Delta in Botswana, and Great Himalayan National Park in India.

In the past few hours, sites in India, China, Republic of Korea have been inscribed.

Tasmania's forests agenda item is on the list for tomorrow. Unless something happens to see it come forward we are looking at a decision tomorrow.

With a deep knowledge of, and connection with, Tasmania's World Heritage Area, Lincoln Siliakus joins the expert delegation in Doha. Lincoln has covered many remote corners of the World Heritage Area in his boots, trekking through the wild ancient terrain.

Lincoln's experience here in the World Heritage Committee forum stretches back to 1985, when he attended for the first time as a member of a lobbying delegation on Tasmania's forests and tropical forests around Qld.

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Lincoln, with Alec Marr, Christine Milne and Peter Hitchcock, have carried the baton for the globally significant site that is Tasmania's World Heritage Area in this forum for two decades.  

Some of you may know Lincoln as the man who coordinated the legal campaign to save the Franklin River from damming. He represented blockaders and The Wilderness Society in the famous High Court case.

At the World Heritage forum level, he has not only lobbied for Tasmania.  Lincoln has also lobbied for Kakadu National Park, successfully fought the attack by the Howard Government to attempt to have the operational guidelines of the convention gutted, and lobbied UNESCO in Paris last year on behalf of Great Barrier Reef.

Lincoln is Tasmania's World Heritage Area steward in France. In his spare time he is a lawyer turned journalist, writing about wine tourism in France.

With a very kind and caring personality and a willingness to share his advice during this World Heritage forum with me, Lincoln has far reaching expertise in advocating for the unique, wild and remote forests of Tasmania's World Heritage Area. The forests are in very good hands.

Jenny Weber

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New World Heritage Areas source of national pride

Today in Doha was a day of inscriptions to the World Heritage list, including the Tomioka Silk Mill and Related Sites in Japan, the Ancient Maya City and Protected Tropical Forests of Calakmul, Campeche in Mexico, the Carolingian Westwork and Civitas Corvey in Germany and the Qhapaq Nan, Andean Road System, among others.

The Qhapag Nan is a common cultural heritage now listed as World Heritage, between Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

Qhapaq Nan otherwise know as the Main Andean Road, was the backbone of the Inca Empire’s political and economic power. The whole network of roads over 30,000 km in length connected various production, administrative and ceremonial centres constructed over more than 2,000 years of pre-Inca Andean culture. The Incas of Cuzco achieved this unique infrastructure on a grand scale in less than a century.

Tomorrow the agenda has at least 24 more sites to consider for inscription to the World Heritage List.  Witnessing the joy and celebration of State Parties as they have their sites added to the World Heritage List, it is appalling to consider Australia's position this year. Just twelve months after Tasmania's World Heritage Area was extended to include the globally significant forests and karst regions, we are here to prevent the Australian Government's attempt to remove 74,000ha of World Heritage forest from the site.

Jenny Weber

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Alec Marr

What has been very educational at the World Heritage Committee meeting is that this is a State Party meeting. As an observer I have been fascinated to follow the debate of the state parties about natural and cultural heritage. Respect for this forum is paramount. So to is the respect for the Convention, something that is being attacked by the Australian Government, by applying to remove 74,000 ha from Tasmania's World Heritage Area.

Someone who has been attending these meetings for the past 20 years, as an observer on behalf of the natural wonders of the world is Alec Marr.  Alec has represented Australia's World Heritage sites in this forum for longer than anyone else in Australia, and it shows.  His understanding and insights have been very valuable.

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Tasmania's delegation to the World Heritage Committee meeting.  Peter Hitchcock, Phill Pullinger, Alec Marr, Jenny Weber and Lincoln Siliakus

This year I have joined Alec, who is leading an expert delegation including Protected Area and World Heritage specialist Peter Hitchcock AM and World Heritage legal expert Lincoln Siliakus.

With Phill Pullinger from Environment Tasmania, I have joined with this team, representing NGOs to observe at this meeting and advocate for the tall eucalyptus tract of forests from Cockle Creek in far south Tasmania to the Great Western Tiers in the north.

The World Heritage Committee, made up of 21 state parties, is charged with evaluation and protection of the most important sites for culture and nature around the world, to ensure these places are protected for future generations.

Jenny Weber

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Peter Hitchcock

Sharing time with Peter Hitchcock AM, who is a member of the expert delegation on behalf of Tasmania's forests, is the privilege of having an adviser with encyclopaedic knowledge of World Heritage sites in magnificent regions and the tall eucalyptus forests of Tasmania.  Peter has been attending World Heritage Committee since 2008 as a consultant to NGOs, as a Protected Area and World Heritage specialist.

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Peter Hitchcock

Peter first became involved in the the Tasmanian forest issue 28 years ago, when he was one of three commissioners. Peter served one year as a Commissioner on a Commonwealth Commission of Inquiry into the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests of Tasmania (The 'Helsham Inquiry'). The Inquiry was high profile and controversial. Peter was the author of a dissenting report and recommendations, most of which were adopted by the Commonwealth Government, including World Heritage nomination for the Tasmanian Forests.

Peter has extensive experience in forest conservation, conservation planning and all aspects of World Heritage, both in Australia and internationally. He has been involved in conservation assessment, planning and boundary design for Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area since 1987 and was advisor to the Australian Government in the preparation of the 2013 additions to the WHA.

Peter has been teaching me that this forum of the World Heritage Committee is just like a Parliament with rules and laws. He has also been teaching me about the significant role of IUCN and the work of this expert advisory team.

As one of the strongest advocates for the regional connectivity corridor (ecological) of tall eucalyptus forest/rainforest ecosystems that are threatened by the Australian Government's application, Peter has been highlighting the significance of this globally unique ecosystem. In Peter's expert opinion the tall eucalyptus forests in the TWWHA represent the world’s premier example of temperate tall eucalyptus forest. Truncation of these forests by the proposed de-listings would seriously degrade the Outstanding Universal Value of these magnificent forests, indeed the whole World Heritage Area.

Jenny Weber

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Inside Al Jazeera

With trepidation and excitement, visiting Al Jazeera with Alec Marr yesterday was an experience to remember. Alec appeared on Inside Story, a daily news programme broadcast by Al Jazeera English, from Al Jazeera's studios in Doha. 

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 Jenny Weber and Alec Marr at Al Jazeera studios, Doha

There were striking images on the wall of solidarity by journalists for their colleagues who are currently imprisoned. I was thinking of the Australian Peter Greste, an Al Jazeera journalist detained in Egypt. I was struck by the freedoms of journalists close to me and people we work with every day in Australia.

We were at Al Jazeera to deliver a story on World Heritage and Tasmania's forests, an issue that pales to insignificance compared the current issues around the globe today. Though the World Heritage forests of Tasmania are also one of the most spectacular places on earth, and recognised by UNESCO as such, we are merely messengers of their value and significance. In a world of so many stories. 

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Al Jazeera's Inside Story report on World Heritage sites under threat

So while being at the edge of the desert in the Arabian Gulf summer, I'm remembering that the lush and wet temperate forests of Tasmania are the lungs of this globe and they stand tall for the benefit of all species and the climate.

The World Heritage Committee meeting is on today from 3 to 7 pm Qatar time. They are starting on the Nominations to the World Heritage list. So the Tasmanian forests decision is imminent, most likely we will hear about it tomorrow.

Jenny Weber

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Botswana's magnificent Okavango Delta

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) works with countries around the world to identify and protect cultural and natural places that merit recognition as part of the common heritage of humankind. UNESCO adopted the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and National Heritage in 1972. Since then, 190 countries have ratified the treaty, and at present 981 properties are inscribed on the List - 759 of which are cultural, 193 natural and 29 mixed (a combination of the two).

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In the coming days this list will increase.  One of the nominations to watch, the Okavango Delta in Botswana.  The Okavango Delta System is located in the northwestern part of Botswana linked by a major channel of the Okavango River. Originating in the Angolan highlands as two rivers, the Cubango and Cuito, which converge into a broad channel flowing through Namibia into Botswana. The Okavango Delta is a wetland in an otherwise arid environment that is an extension of Botswana's Kalahari Desert and incorporates a variety of habitats including woodlands, riverine forests grasslands, floodplains and sand veldt islands. 

The Delta is the largest inland delta in the world and one of the most globally-important and species-rich wetlands. The Okavango Delta is world-renowned for its unique ecological and economic role in Southern Africa. The Delta supports an outstanding biodiversity of life including 150 species of mammals, over 500 species of birds, 90 species of fish, as well as plants, reptiles, invertebrates and amphibians. 

Jenny Weber

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Countdown to Decision on Tasmania's Forests

Day 3 of the 38th Meeting of the World Heritage Committee, (38COM), has started.

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On today's agenda is the State of Conservation of properties inscribed on the World Heritage List. This is the last day we will be hearing about sites that are on this list. 38COM commences again tomorrow at 3pm Qatar time until 7pm.

This time is when we will be looking at the nominations to the World Heritage List. Tasmania's forests are in this agenda item. We could know the fate of the magnificent Tasmanian forests before 7pm tomorrow night, or it might be Saturday morning Qatar time. So stay tuned and you may see the outcome decided by Saturday evening AEST.

Jenny Weber

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Final Warning for Australia on Reef

It was a fascinating experience to witness the World Heritage Committee at work on one of Australia's most spectacular World Heritage listed environments. The Committee cast its vote on the Great Barrier Reef after two hours of discussion. 

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The spectacular convention centre in Doha where the World Heritage Committee Meeting is being held

WWF who have been working hard in this meeting and built up a strong international social media campaign said,

"The decision put Australia firmly on notice - take stronger action to protect the Great Barrier Reef or risk it being listed as 'in danger'."

In partnership with the Australian Marine Conservation Society, WWF now have a clear direction to follow after today. UNESCO has given a warning to the Australian government that they need to work harder to protect the reef.

People around the globe want Australia's reef protected and the government's damaging development proposals need to cease. The fight for the reef just received a huge boost in the international arena.

Hearing strong words of concern expressed by Portugal, Colombia and Jamaica for the Great Barrier Reef, reinforced the principle that this forum is an opportunity for state parties of the world to advocate for sites with outstanding universal values.

Thankfully for the Great Barrier Reef, an ecosystem with dugongs, turtles, and so much more, the World Heritage Committee rejected amendments watering down the draft decision.  In accepting the draft decision there were comments of concern about the proposed dredging approval and the proposed handing over of environmental approvals from Federal to State Government.

With that feeling of relief for the reef, I have hope to see Tasmania's World Heritage forests stay safe forever. Though it is still two more days until we get to that agenda item and learn the fate of the forests.

Jenny Weber

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Waiting for news of the Reef

We are poised to learn what happens to the Great Barrier Reef in today's World Heritage Committee meeting. The Committee has been moving through the list of State of the Conservation of the properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Yesterday World Heritage sites in all corners of the globe were covered from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Solomon Islands, and the Central African Republic.

In the hours before the World Heritage 38COM started, there was an unprecedented level of global actions to defend the Australian World Heritage sites on the agenda. A huge campaign by the World Wildlife Fund gathered 204,512 Votes for the Reef, cast through the YouNesco website from people in 160 countries. Our own Global Action to Defend Australian World Heritage was co-ordinated by Observer Tree, the Bob Brown Foundation and the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

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Jenny Weber in the World Heritage Committee meeting

The hundreds of actions that took place over the weekend are a sign that the international community values our globally significant environments. There was a truly worldwide public demonstration of our position – that Australia’s unique world heritage sites should be protected for current and future generations to enjoy.

Just waiting for decision on the reef now.

Jenny Weber

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Arrival

Arriving in Qatar, into the unknown, I realise more and more how remote the small island of Tasmania is.

What a privilege it is to have an intact natural ecosystem as rich as the ancient forests of Tasmania. What a privilege and responsibility is it to have the outstanding universal values of these forests listed as World Heritage.

As I stepped out of the airport into the searing heat of Doha, these were only some of the realisations that hit me about our planet and global community. 

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Delegation members Jenny Weber, Alec Marr, Lincoln Siliakis and Peter Hitchcock at the Convention Centre, Doha, where the World Heritage Committee meeting is taking place.

Today is day one of the 38th session of the World Heritage Committee, as delegates from every corner of the globe descend on the spectacular Qatar National Convention Centre to vote on cultural and natural heritage areas of global significance.

The small island of Tasmania is just one site of many that will be discussed. It's why I am here to observe how the World Heritage Committee votes on the application by the Australian Government to remove 74,000 ha from Tasmania's World Heritage Area.

At last night's opening ceremony we heard from the World Heritage Committee Chairperson H.E. Sheikha Al Mayassa bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.

Her words of wisdom did strike me; it is imperative to take seriously the responsibility to safeguard and protect heritage. It is imperative for state parties to have the utmost commitment to the World Heritage Convention.

While the ecological processes are functioning in the forests right now, they are on the world stage and many people are watching. In the heat of the Arabian summer, while the ocean laps at this wild desert country, the delicate forest ecosystem of Tasmania's world heritage area will have its moment in the international spotlight.

It is compelling that in the foyer of the convention centre sits the largest Louise Bourgeois spider sculpture. For the artist the sculpture alludes to the strength of the mother, with metaphors of spinning, weaving, nurture and protection. That spectacular piece of art is a timely reminder that there are many international delegates here that consider protection of natural and cultural heritage as imperative. They look to weave a sense of nurture and protection into state parties' consideration of heritage

This seems lost on some members of the Australian Government right now, so we can only wait for the fate of our World Heritage forests in this next ten days, knowing that there is a excellent team of lobbyists for Tasmania's forests working hard here in Qatar.

Jenny Weber 

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