World Heritage

IUCN is the official advisor on nature under the World Heritage Convention. Natural World Heritage sites are recognised as the most significant protected areas. They provide life-supporting benefits to people and the planet, yet face increasing threats. Our ability to secure the highest quality of protection to these sites is a litmus test of the effectiveness of nature conservation more broadly.

IUCN's work on World Heritage

IUCN strives to enhance the role of the World Heritage Convention in protecting the planet’s biodiversity and promote effective use of its mechanisms to strengthen the conservation and management of natural sites. IUCN's approach to conserving the natural sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List is based on decades of work, expertise and partnerships. IUCN is an official advisor to the World Heritage Committee. In addition to this statutory role, IUCN assesses the conservation prospects of all natural sites through the IUCN World Heritage Outlook. IUCN also implements capacity-building initiatives through the World Heritage Leadership programme, recognising the connections between People-Nature-Culture in managing World Heritage sites.

We assess

63% of all

natural World Heritage sites listed up to 2020 are assessed by IUCN as having a positive conservation outlook

We advise

~ 60 natural sites

are monitored by IUCN each year for the World Heritage Committee; 266 are now listed

We train

3500 practioners

have participated in capacity building through the World Heritage Leadership Programme.

Why is natural World Heritage important?

World Heritage sites enjoy the highest level of international recognition through the 1972 World Heritage Convention, as places so valuable that their conservation transcends boundaries, cultures and generations. Our ability to secure the highest quality of protection to natural World Heritage sites is therefore a litmus test of the effectiveness of nature conservation more broadly.

Although there are relatively few natural World Heritage sites compared to other types of protected areas, they cover very large areas that represent the best of nature. The 266 sites currently inscribed on the World Heritage List for their natural values cover about 8% of the world’s total protected lands and seas.

Natural World Heritage sites include iconic places such as the Galápagos Islands, the Serengeti, Kilimanjaro, Yellowstone, the Great Barrier Reef and Ha Long Bay. They are areas of stunning natural beauty, which not only harbour unique ecosystems and rare species, but also reflect a collective commitment to safeguarding the planet’s most precious places for future generations.

Policy positions

World Heritage and the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework

A statement issued by a group of experts provides key messages on the relevance of the World Heritage Convention, and how it can be harnessed to support global biodiversity targets post 2020. 

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Impact assessment

Assessing the impacts of projects likely to affect World Heritage sites –before deciding to proceed with them– is essential to prevent damage on natural values and identify sustainable options.

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The Promise of Sydney

The flagship outcome document of IUCN's 2014 World Park Congress proposes six recommendations to guide the World Heritage Convention towards an enhanced role over a decade.

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More policies and guidelines

Thematic studies

IUCN regularly conducts and updates thematic studies to help States Parties and interested stakeholders assess the potential for nominating candidate sites to the World Heritage List. These include analyses of possible gaps by region or by type of ecosystem.   

Iguaçu National Park, Brazil
IUCN introductory course on natural World Heritage

Are you interested in helping conserve the world’s most outstanding natural places? Join the IUCN Academy for a free online course to learn more about natural World Heritage sites and what makes them different from other types of protected areas…