World Heritage — Saving Nature As Well As Culture

Yellowstone National Park is one of 197 natural World Heritage Sites around the world. Photo by Cristián Samper ©WCS.

By Susan Lieberman

What do the Taj Mahal, Yellowstone National Park, the Great Wall of China, and Virunga National Park have in common? They are all UNESCO World Heritage Sites, protected by an international convention recognizing that they and another thousand special places around the world are the common heritage of humanity and deserve the highest level of protection.

Under the radar of most media, a fascinating and critical international meeting will open on June 28 in Bonn, Germany that impacts all of us in profound ways. The Government of Germany is hosting a meeting of the World Heritage Convention of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization).

Yellowstone National Park is one of 197 natural World Heritage sites around the world. Photo by Cristián Samper ©WCS.

Why should we care? The World Heritage Convention (officially, the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage) was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO in November 1972, and entered into force in December 1975—40 years ago this year.

Today, the Convention has 191 member Governments, and is one of the most universally accepted of all international conventions.

The World Heritage Convention developed from the merging of two separate movements: one focusing on the preservation of cultural sites and the other dealing with the conservation of natural sites. The convention links the two with the understanding that the “…deterioration or disappearance of any item of the cultural or natural heritage constitutes a harmful impoverishment of the heritage of all the nations of the world.”

The Taj Mahal is one of 779 cultural sites protected by the World Heritage Convention. Photo © 2004 Dhirad.

Today, there are 1,007 World Heritage sites—779 cultural sites, 197 natural sites, and 31 listed as mixed cultural and natural. The World Heritage Convention confers a level of —> Read More