The future of the World Heritage Convention

The future of the World Heritage Convention

UNESCO’s Convention on World Heritage is approaching its 40th anniversary, with more than 180 state parties and 850 sites. During the past four decades important steps have been made through the Convention for the safeguarding of the cultural and natural heritage of our planet.

There are still unresolved problems. The World Heritage List is not balanced yet, in terms of regions (i.e. mostly European and North American sites) and site specific characteristics that are included in that list, i.e. mostly cultural sites (77%), much fewer natural ones (20%) and only a few (3%) mixed sites. The conservation status of several sites does not seem to be satisfactory while their listing in the “Danger List” has rarely contributed to drastic improvements (similarly to the Ramsar Montreux record). The concept of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) for site designation has been very useful, but there are concerns whether all sites have maintained the OUV for which they were initially included in the list. With more sites being constantly proposed by state parties (around 40 every year) and with limited human and financial resources, as well as intense time pressure at all levels, the operation of the Convention seems already strained.

For all these reasons, the future of the World Heritage Convention had to be reconsidered and assessed. In this context, a significant meeting was organised in Paris on 25-27 February 2009, with the participation of around 150 experts from state parties and related organisations.

The discussions focused on strengthening the image of the World Heritage Convention and of its list of sites. Further, several issues with regard to the sustainable conservation and management of World Heritage sites as well as the sustainable use of their resources, mainly for the benefit of local communities, have been discussed. Finally, improvements in the operation of the instruments and procedures of the Convention were examined, and concrete recommendations have been proposed.

The Convention on Wetlands contributed to the workshop with a report prepared by its Culture Working Group (CWG). Thymio Papayannis, Coordinator of the CWG (and Med-INA Director), participated in the workshop and shared his useful experience on integrated management of wetland sites.

The results of the Paris workshop are included in a report presented to the 33rd meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Seville on 22-30 June 2009.