Nearing the 1,000 mark

04 August 2010 | Article

At this session in Brasilia, the 900th World Heritage Property was inscribed. As we approach 1,000 properties, it is important to reflect on how the World Heritage Convention operates, writes Kelly Black, a member of the IUCN delegation.

The Convention was created in 1972 and originally it was envisioned that perhaps 100 properties would comprise the list. When we think of what World Heritage is, some obvious sites such as the Pyramids of Giza or Grand Canyon National Park, come to mind. But as the list increases, the need to demonstrate a property’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) becomes more important. As the Convention states:

…parts of the cultural or natural heritage are of outstanding interest and therefore need to be preserved as part of the world heritage of mankind as a whole…it is essential for this purpose to adopt new provisions in the form of a convention establishing an effective system of collective protection of the cultural and natural heritage of outstanding universal value, organized on a permanent basis and in accordance with modern scientific methods…

If a State Party can not initially demonstrate OUV, it can be referred (looked at the following year) or deferred (at least two years following recommendation). I believe the nomination process is the greatest opportunity to get it right; recommending a property for referral or deferral does not suggest that a property is not of importance or value. In fact, such a recommendation is intended to aid State Parties in developing the best possible nomination so that its value to the world may be clearly defined and that it may be properly conserved for generations to come.

With inscription comes international recognition. However, the point of the Convention is not only recognition. First and foremost, the almost 40 year-old document is about proper protection, management and conservation of places deemed to be of outstanding value to all people of the planet. We have come a long way from one hundred properties. As we rapidly approach one thousand, the importance of OUV becomes even greater