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World Heritage—the good, the political, and the endangered

View from Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

Since the World Heritage Convention was first adopted in 1972, more than 1,000 natural and cultural sites of outstanding universal value have been added to the World Heritage List. It was the first international effort to combine protection of both natural and cultural sites in the same program. But despite the success of the World Heritage program, its important to note that designation on the World Heritage List is honorific in nature, and does not enact or imbue any specific protective actions or policies regarding sites on the List. Instead, the program relies on the desire of state parties to protect these sites through their own individual laws and regulations, which both promotes national provide, increases eco- and cultural tourism, and prevents international embarrassment if a site is deemed to have lost its universal value and is threatened with removal from the List or, worse, de-listing altogether.

Some countries, like Italy, have numerous World Heritage Sites, but others such as many countries in Africa, lack any or have very few. For example, this year Eritrea was successful for placing its first site on the World Heritage List. Yet despite the overall popularity of the World Heritage Convention, and the desire to protect sites of international significance, politics can interfere with the nomination and selection process. Because state parties nominate sites to the World Heritage List, on occasion contentious issues arise as to cultural and historical significance and ownership. Recent examples can be found in Jerusalem and Zimbabwe.

In addition, to reviewing nominations for adding new natural and cultural sites to the World Heritage List, the World Heritage Committee also annually reviews reports on the state of conservation of specific sites that are considered to be threatened or endangered by either natural or human action. Recent examples can be found in places as disparate as Liverpool and the Great Barrier Reef. In advance of this summer’s meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Krakow, Poland, the Committee made the state of conservation reports for 154 World Heritage properties available online for public consumption.

The article below highlights the places recently designated as World Heritage sites at the 2017 Committee meeting in Krakow, Poland. (Also click on the "World Heritage" category label at the top for more posts by the International Heritage News Network).


UNESCO World Heritage Sites 2017 Picks Range from Eritrea to England

By Elane Glusac

The New York TimesSeptember 1, 2017

Also see

“Among the world’s best places to discover history, nature, or culture”

By International Heritage News NetworkJune 16, 2017

World Heritage Centre’s State of Conservation reports now online

By International Heritage News Network

June 15, 2017

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