IUCN at the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting, Spain

22 June 2009 | News story

What do the Serengeti, the Great Barrier Reef and the Galapagos Islands have in common? They are among the world’s most outstanding natural areas that have been designated as a World Heritage site and placed under the guardianship of the international community. World Heritage sites make up some 8% of the world’s protected areas and are places of cultural or natural significance.

The World Heritage List is maintained under UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention, perhaps the most widely recognized conservation instrument in the world. The World Heritage Committee, which is responsible for implementing the Convention, has the final say on whether a site is inscribed on the List. During its annual meeting in Seville from 22 to 30 June, the Committee will consider nominations for the inscription of new sites and examine the state of conservation of sites already inscribed.

IUCN is the official technical advisory body to the World Heritage Committee on natural heritage. This year there is a focus on making sure marine conservation is fully addressed by the Convention. Almost 200 of the 878 World Heritage Sites are listed for their natural values and 37 are protected for their marine biodiversity values.

“Through its World Heritage Marine Programme, the Convention is increasingly recognized as playing a key role in achieving wider objectives for global marine conservation, particularly in the face of climate change,” says Tim Badman, IUCN’s Special Advisor for World Heritage.

Having played a major part in drafting the text of the World Heritage Convention with UNESCO in 1972, IUCN continues to evaluate the natural values of sites nominated for inscription and has evaluated hundreds of nominations over the years. Each year IUCN reports to the World Heritage Committee on the conservation status of certain natural and mixed sites (those containing both natural and cultural values) under threat. These assessments are based on information drawn from a variety of sources: IUCN member organizations, indigenous peoples groups, the scientific community, experts from IUCN commissions and concerned individuals and organizations.