United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) works with countries around the world to identify World Heritage sites. These are special places as unique and diverse as the wilds of East Africa's Serengeti, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and the Baroque cathedrals of Latin America.
More than 900 cultural, natural and mixed sites have been inscribed on the World Heritage List. These sites have outstanding international significance. They enrich our lives and illustrate the diversity of our planet and its inhabitants. Inscription on the World Heritage List helps safeguard these sites for future generations.
World Heritage site designation is commemorative. It does not change recreational activities permitted on the land; however, the status of outstanding universal values recognized by the designation must be maintained. For example, if Willmore Wilderness Park were to receive World Heritage status hiking, horseback riding, backcountry camping, hunting and fishing would continue to be permitted. This would also be true of Willmore's trapping and commercial guiding/outfitting operations, as long as they continue to be properly managed.
Inscription as a World Heritage site does not change legal status, ownership or management of designated lands. UNESCO has no jurisdiction over the site. Neither provincial nor federal governments acquire any new level of jurisdiction.
The Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage is an international agreement adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO in 1972. It was founded on the premise that certain places on Earth:
As of 2011, 174 countries have ratified the Convention. Canada ratified the Convention in 1976.
The Convention's definition of "heritage" includes nature conservation and preservation of cultural sites. Cultural heritage refers to:
Natural heritage refers to:
The Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage is overseen by the World Heritage Committee. The Committee is composed of 21 countries elected by the States Parties. States Parties are those countries that have ratifed the Convention. The Committee is supported by UNESCO's World Heritage Centre in Paris. The Centre:
The Committee also:
There is a well-developed nomination process leading to the inscription of a World Heritage site. To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must:
World Heritage List inscripiton is only a step toward safeguarding a site for future generations. Ongoing management and preservation efforts involve local communities, site managers and national authorities. The characteristics for which a site was originally inscribed on the World Heritage List can be threatened by:
In these cases, inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger can be a powerful tool for conservation. The "in danger" list calls the world's attention to endangered sites. It can mobilize international resources for emergency preservation measures.
World Heritage site inscription may increase public awareness of the site and its outstanding values. This has the potential to increase tourist activities at the site. Increased tourism can bring important funds both to the site and to the local economy as long as these activities:
Increased tourism always carries the risk of harming the very attributes that led to a site's inscription. Visitors to World Heritage sites can learn about natural, cultural and historical characteristics while respecting the environment and local culture. Sustainable tourism and a publicly-developed plan that identifies appropriate levels and types of use are necessary. Sustainable tourism can: