published by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety
UNESCO World Heritage Convention (1972)
The Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage – also known as the World Heritage Convention – was adopted by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at its seventeenth session on 16 November 1972. It is the single most important international instrument for the protection of our cultural and natural heritage. To date, 190 countries have ratified the Convention, including Germany in 1976.
According to its Preamble, the Convention’s guiding principle is “that 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”. Natural World Heritage thus denotes unique natural phenomena, while Cultural World Heritage denotes superlative achievements in human culture. By signing the Convention, States Parties pledge to protect the cultural and natural heritage situated on their territories and preserve it for future generations. The most important instrument established under the Convention is the UNESCO World Heritage List, in which unique natural features, geological formations, cultural landscapes and cultural properties of outstanding worldwide significance are inscribed. The main criteria for inclusion in the World Heritage List are the properties’ outstanding universal value, integrity and assurance of the protection of the properties in question. States Parties applying for the inscription of appropriate properties located within their borders thus recognise the worldwide significance of these properties and undertake to conserve them. World Heritage properties which are particularly at risk are put on the “List of World Heritage in Danger”. Measures which are essential for the conservation and protection of these properties may be financed with assistance from the World Heritage Fund.
The World Heritage List currently includes 1031 properties in 163 countries, of which 802 are cultural, 197 are natural and 32 are mixed properties forming part of both the cultural and the natural heritage. 48 properties are included on the List of World Heritage in Danger, including the Old City of Jerusalem (as at Juli 2015).
World Natural Heritage
Geirangerfjord in Norway, Lake Baikal in Russia, the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador, Serengeti National Park in Tanzania – these are just four out of a total of 197 World Natural Heritage properties currently inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Not all sites are as famous as those mentioned above. Among the World Natural Heritage sites are also natural treasures such as the Bwindi Nationalpark in Uganda known for its mountain gorillas, the caves from Skocjan in Slovenia or the Rainforests of Atsinanana in Madagascar.
Article 2 of the World Heritage Convention defines "natural heritage" as follows:
- natural features consisting of physical and biological formations or groups of such formations, which are of outstanding universal value from the aesthetic or scientific point of view;
- geological and physiographical formations and precisely delineated areas which constitute the habitat of threatened species of animals and plants of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation;
- natural sites or precisely delineated natural areas of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science, conservation or natural beauty.
Outstanding universal value denotes a natural significance which is so outstanding that it transcends national borders. It means that a property needs to be preserved for present and future generations, as part of a common universal heritage. The criteria to be applied to assess outstanding universal value are established by the World Heritage Committee (Article 49 of the Operational Guidelines).
Official website of the World Heritage Convention
UNESCO World Heritage in Germany
German World Heritage Foundation
Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention