World Heritage Sites

Machu Picchu © Pedro Szekely

The Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage was adopted by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1972. The Convention seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage sites around the world which are considered to be of “outstanding universal value” to humanity.

The World Heritage List includes some of the world’s most important cultural and natural sites: the Egyptian pyramids, Great Wall (China), Taj Mahal (India), Machu Picchu (Peru), Great Barrier Reef (Australia), Galapagos Islands (Ecuador), Kilimanjaro (Tanzania) and Grand Canyon (USA).

To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must meet at least one of the ten selection criteria. Six of the ten criteria (i-vi) address cultural values, the remaining four (vii-x) address natural values. Cultural World Heritage sites are inscribed on the World Heritage List under cultural criteria, natural World Heritage sites under natural criteria. Some sites meet both cultural and natural criteria and are inscribed as mixed World Heritage sites. To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must also meet specific requirements concerning their integrity and/or authenticity, protection and management.

The convention’s secretariat, the World Heritage Centre, is based in Paris and is responsible for the day-to-day management of the convention. The World Heritage Committee, the convention’s decision-making body, meets once a year to examine new nominations to the World Heritage List and to analyse the state of conservation of the existing World Heritage sites. The Committee is advised by three international non-governmental or intergovernmental organizations. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is the World Heritage Committee’s advisory body for natural heritage sites and UNEP-WCMC supports IUCN in its role as an advisory body.

UNEP-WCMC's Role

 UNEP-WCMC works in close collaboration with UNESCO and IUCN to provide technical support to the implementation of the World Heritage Convention and acts as advisory body for natural heritage in the following areas:

• Offering comparative analysis of the biodiversity values of new World Heritage Site proposals to those of existing World Heritage Sites and other protected areas to support IUCN's evaluation of new nominations.

• Evaluating new nominations and monitoring existing World Heritage sites. The Head of UNEP-WCMC’s Protected Area Programme advises the IUCN as a member of the IUCN's World Heritage Panel, and other UNEP-WCMC staff support these processes as necessary.

• Supporting the preparation, maintanence and publication of books, thematic studies and information sheets on natural and mixed World Heritage sites.

• Analysing and synthesising the biogeographic and biodiversity coverage of the World Heritage network and helping to identify future priorities for inscription on the World Heritage List. 

• Managing and improving spatial information on natural and mixed World Heritage sites in the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA).

UNEP-WCMC and IUCN are currently also developing a project on climate change vulnerability and adaptation of biodiversity World Heritage sites (sites inscribed under criteria ix and/or x). The initial phase of the project involves identification of those biodiversity World Heritage sites that are most vulnerable to climate change. In a subsequent phase of the project it is planned to support site-specific vulnerability and adaptation assessments at a number of biodiversity World Heritage sites. Lessons learned at the local level will then be used to inform capacity building, decision making and awareness raising at regional and global levels.

World Heritage Information Sheets

All sites inscribed on the World Heritage List for natural or mixed (natural and cultural) values are presented here in separate information sheets. These are compiled by UNEP-WCMC and IUCN. The full list of World Heritage properties (cultural, natural and mixed) is maintained by UNESCO.

World Heritage Thematic Studies

The objectives of the World Heritage Convention are the identification, protection, conservation and presentation of the world's natural and cultural heritage and ultimately, the successful transmission of them to future generations. UNEP-WCMC and IUCN have undertaken a range of global and regional studies to support State Parties to the Convention in the selection of potential sites, and to assist in the evaluation of nominations.