World Heritage - Facts and figures

17 December 2012 | Fact sheet

The 217 natural World Heritage Sites currently listed (in January 2013) represent the World’s most important protected areas, and these exceptional sites show the ground level realities of global nature conservation. IUCN’s independent monitoring of WH sites celebrates conservation successes and draws attention to the growing threats to these crown jewels of conservation, such as illegal mining, major infrastructure, conflict and the basic needs for support for the protected area staff at the sharp end.

Key facts about World Heritage

  • There are 217 natural World Heritage Sites
  • 188 World Heritage Sites are classified as natural sites
  • 29 mixed sites are classified as both natural and cultural
  • World Heritage Sites protect over 266 million hectares (ha) of land and sea.
  • 89 countries have an area designated as a natural or mixed World Heritage Site.
  • The average area of a natural World Heritage Site is c. 1,263,100 ha

Areas protected by World Heritage amount to around:

  • 11% of the total area of all recorded protected areas
  • 25% of the total area of all recorded marine protected areas
  • 6% of the total area of all recorded terrestrial protected areas

Of all areas listed as protected areas in the World Database of Protected Areas, World Heritage Sites include:

  • 16% of the total protected area in the Asia Pacific Region
  • 11% of the total protected area in Africa
  • 8% of the total protected area in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • 9% of the total protected area in the Arab States
  • 13% of the total protected area in Europe and North America.

For the countries with an area designated as a natural or mixed World Heritage site:

  • In 21 countries the extent of World Heritage Sites is more than 25% of all protected areas
  • In 41 countries the extent of World Heritage Sites is more than 10% of all protected areas
  • More than half of the member states of the World Heritage Convention have no natural World Heritage Site.

The average area of a natural World Heritage Site is c. 1,263,100 ha (12,631 square kilometers). Excluding the very large Phoenix Islands Protected Areas, Papahānaumokuākea and Great Barrier Reef, the average size is c. 727,000 ha (7,270 square kilometers).

The country with the largest area of natural and/or mixed World Heritage sites is the United States of America.

Ten countries with the largest extent of natural World Heritage Sites are: 

Country Total Area of natural World Heritage Sites Area of natural World Heritage Sites as % of national protected areas
1. United States of America 46,341,817 19%
2. Australia 44,135,913 27%
3. Kiribati 40,825,000 91%
4. Russian Federation 22,436,659 9%
5. Ecuador 14,338,439 73%
6. Canada 10,608,213 12%
7. Niger 7,956,000 96%
8.Algeria 7,361,315 52%
9. Tanzania 7,200,000 26%
10. Congo, The Democratic Republic 6,670,671 30%

IUCN’s Advisory Body role in the World Heritage Convention

IUCN co-drafted the World Heritage Convention text with UNESCO in 1972 and is explicitly recognized within the Convention as the technical Advisory Body to the World Heritage Committee on natural World Heritage sites. IUCN is also a keen observer of the politics behind the Convention, and the challenges to maintain the high standards of credibility that underpin the World Heritage brand name.

Our role under the Convention is threefold:

  1. IUCN evaluates all natural and 'mixed' sites nominated for World Heritage Status, and contributes to evaluations of certain cultural landscapes.
  2. IUCN monitors the state of conservation of existing World Heritage Sites.
  3. IUCN contributes to capacity building, training and related initiatives, particularly at regional and field levels. 


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