Introduction

Our June Focus takes a look behind the scenes at efforts underway to save the planet’s iconic natural and cultural sites. Think of the wildlife of East Africa’s Serengeti National Park, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Pyramids of Egypt and the historic sanctuary of Machu Picchu in Peru. All are listed as World Heritage sites for their outstanding natural or cultural values. Safeguarding these places for the many benefits they offer, not least in providing a major draw card for tourists worldwide, is an immense challenge and one that IUCN plays a major role in tackling.

Around 8% of the world’s protected areas, including national parks and nature reserves, are World Heritage Sites—places recognized as having ‘outstanding universal value’ because of their natural or cultural significance.

The latest sites to be added to UNESCO’s prestigious World Heritage List will be announced at the meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Paris, 19-29 June. A total of 42 sites will be considered for inscription this year including 13 natural or ‘mixed’ sites—sites nominated for both natural and cultural values.

After rigorous evaluations of this year’s nominations, IUCN the official advisory body on natural sites, will present its recommendations to the Committee. It will also report back on monitoring missions it conducted to 19 World Heritage Sites in 2010 and 2011 and will recommend those under threat to be inscribed on the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger.

We’ll be reporting on the decisions live from the meeting while our experts provide the inside track on the key issues at stake.

Placing a site on the World Heritage list doesn’t guarantee that it will be properly conserved and managed. Despite its successes, the World Heritage Convention faces many serious challenges that must be addressed if it is to be an effective force for conservation. Read the opening article of this month’s World Conservation Debate to find out what the experts are saying and let us know what you think.

As part of our Focus package, you can discover how much you know about World Heritage issues by having a go at our quiz, then challenge your friends on facebook! Read about our scientists in action and browse some stunning images from World Heritage sites around the world.

Ahead of the meeting, we talk to Tim Badman, Director of IUCN's World Heritage Programme: What do you see as the main areas of debate at this year's meeting?

 

There is an ongoing debate about the effectiveness of the Convention, what do you see as the priorities for improving it?

 

What can IUCN do to address the many threats World Heritage sites face from mining, development and so on, and make sure they are properly conserved?