A former Unesco chief denounces its failure to protect Venice at Baku meeting

Francesco Bandarin
© Pedro França/Ministério da Cultura

Unescos World Heritage Committee has just finished its meeting in Baku (30 June to 10 July), at which it showed such indifference to the protection of Venice that it makes one question whether it is still able and willing to carry on with what used to be one of its most important safeguarding campaigns. Venice used to be so key to the organisation that it is the only city in the world where a specific office was set up look after it.

At the Baku meeting, Unesco submitted a draft resolution giving approval (“welcomes…” to use the official jargon) to a solution for the passage of large cruise ships into the city that has neither been approved by the Italian government, nor validated by the necessary environmental impact assessments. It relocates the cruise harbour to the industrial port of Marghera on the inner shore of the lagoon, and the passage of the ships down the Canale di Malamocco and then down the currently disused Canale Vittorio Emanuele III to bring them into the Stazione Marittima, the port in Venice.

The World Heritage Committee did not allow any discussion of this and blindly adopted the resolution as it was presented, endorsing a solution that is supported by the cruise ship companies and local government, but opposed by a large constituency of environmentally-conscious organisations, as well as the public body actually in charge of the project, the Italian ministry of infrastructure.

How has this come about? A simple phone call to its Venice office would have been enough to realise that the solution proposed is only one of many being studied and in no way represents a workable response to the problem.

To understand what has happened, one needs to look at the way this process has been managed. Venice and its problems were presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2014, which put Italy on warning that the city would be put on the Unesco endangered sites list unless certain measure were taken. The case was then discussed in 2016, when the committee focused on the traffic of the big cruise ships, managing the tourism, and re-establishing the equilibrium of the lagoon ecosystem. Much to the disappointment of lobby groups, the committee did not put Venice on the endangered list then but gave the Italian government two years to adopt effective solutions and prove that the citys decay was being reversed.

The recent meeting in Baku was, therefore, a moment of truth, a chance for the committee to assess whether the problems of Venice had been adequately addressed. The Italian government had indeed sent a report to Unesco, but this was essentially the product of the Venice town council, which has long been in favour of the Marghera solution and against several other proposals, some already with the validation of the environmental impact assessment commission.

This report was sent via the ministries of culture and foreign affairs to Unesco, which took it at face value, leading it to produce this draft resolution that bears no relationship to the truth of the situation. There was no coordination between the ministries of culture and infrastructure, and while this is indicative of the current state of affairs inside the Italian government, it does not justify the cut-and-paste attitude of Unesco, with its 50-year international reputation for safeguarding Venice.

By opening up the question to the floor and allowing the committee to discuss the many issues raised by the delegates in 2016, it would, of course, have been possible to prevent the blind approval of a text that gives a free hand to the cruise industry. But no committee member dared to ask for this. Some feared that by opening up discussion, the resolution would be watered down and worsened, while others did not want to cross Italys interests. But opening up the case for discussion would have revealed to the world that no solution has been found over the past three years to the problem.

This attitude was all the more astonishing given that only a month earlier, on 2 June, an accident involving a large cruise ship in Venice made international headlinesRead More – Source

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