Julia Kennerley: What's even going on?

Okay, so if yesterday I thought the UN was a dramatic soap opera, today it’s reached a whole new level.  I’m currently watching four grown men in suits stand at a podium, seconds away from a punch up.  It’s kind of like Courtenay Place on a Saturday night.  In fact the conference chair (whose role in this situation seems to be resident UN bouncer) just screamed into the microphone ‘call security, call security!!’.  So, here’s a quick summary of what’s being going on over the past four days: 

1. Opening ceremony = a chance for Poland to show off
The opening ceremony took place at the Royal Palace of Wawel with the likes of Polish President Andrzej Duda and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova speaking to a crowd of over a thousand.  From my observations, although spectacular, this ceremony was an opportunity for Poland to brag about its incredible historical architecture and for the various delegates/ambassadors to butter one another up before the action really began.  Cynical - yes?  But definitely true.  

2.  Major controversy and plenty of awkward moments
On a serious note, many of the delegates here are saying that something incredible happened today.  They’re arguing that UNESCO waded into a political argument by ignoring advisory bodies’ recommendations and making Hebron old city a Palestinian world heritage site.  Hebon is extremely contentious - it has major significance for both Muslims and Jews and is located in the West Bank - hence the major showdown that took place in the plenary room this morning.  Following a secret ballot, Israel’s UNESCO ambassador stormed out of the session, saying that there was ‘a plumbing issue in his toilet and that this was more important than the decision adopted’. 

3.  No barrier for Great Barrier
Another controversial moment was when UNESCO decided not to place the Great Barrier Reef on its list of sites ‘in danger’.  This is despite serious concern over coral bleaching as a result of increasing sea temperatures.  Despite coral bleaching having occurred continuously for two years, the decision was made to not place Great Barrier on the danger list. 

4.  The Viennese saga
In contrast, the city centre of Vienna was placed on the danger list, due to plans for a ‘high rise project’ that would arguably undermine the area’s historical value.  The proposed project includes plans for a new hotel, a high-rise apartment building reaching 66 metres and fitness facilities.  UNESCO argued that the maximum height for any buildings in the city centre should be 43 metres and subsequently placed the site on the danger list, much to the embarrassment of Austria’s UNESCO ambassador. 

5.  And the next 5 days? 
There’s still a wee while to go - we only just started discussing nominations for new UNESCO sites today.  Given our recent experiences, there is bound to be more yelling, more debating and hopefully more prosecco at the closing party.  I’ll let you know. 

All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences.

Posted on July 8, 2017 and filed under World Heritage 2017.