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What is a World Heritage Site?
World Heritage Sites are places of natural and/or cultural significance that are considered to be of "outstanding universal value". Achieving inscription on the 'World Heritage List' involves a nomination and evaluation process that can take several years.
Natural Heritage Sites are outstanding examples representing:
Cultural Heritage Sites are outstanding examples representing the evolution of human society and settlement over time. Cultural sites can:
- major stages of earth's history (e.g. record of life, geological processes, physical features);
- significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals; or
- superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance
Some World Heritage Sites are sites of both natural and cultural significance.
- be a testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;
- exemplify a traditional human settlement or land-use that represents a culture (or cultures) that has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change; or
- represent a contemporary society that is closely associated with a traditional way of life, where the evolutionary process is still in progress
World Heritage Sites (WHS) came into existence as a result of the International Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (the Convention), which was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in 1972. The primary goal of the Convention is to "identify and protect the world's natural and cultural heritage considered to be of'outstanding universal value'" The World Heritage Committee is the main body in charge of the implementation of the Convention; it is supported by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, which acts as the secretariat for the Convention. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) also provides technical services to the UNESCO, regarding WHS.
View the UNESCO World Heritage sites in panography - 360 degree imaging
As World Heritage Sites of universal value and significance, these special places belong to all global citizens, regardless of geographic location. Both the home country and the rest of the world hold an obligation to maintain and protect these sites for current and future generations.
View the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage
The World Heritage List currently consists of 830 sites, which include 644 cultural, 162 natural and 24 mixed areas in 138 States Parties.
Canada's World Heritage Sites
Within Canada, there are 14 World Heritage Sites:
View The Altas of Canada's Map of Canadian World Heritage Sites
- L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site (1978)
- Nahanni National Park (1978)
- Dinosaur Provincial Park (1979)
- Kluane / Wrangell-St Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek (1979, 1992, 1994)
- Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump (1981)
- SGang Gwaay (1981)
- Wood Buffalo National Park (1983)
- Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks (1984, 1990)
- Historic District of Old Québec (1985)
- Gros Morne National Park (1987)
- Old Town Lunenburg (1995)
- Waterton Glacier International Peace Park (1995)
- Miguasha National Park (1999)
- The Rideau Canal (2007)
View Canada's Tentative List for World Heritage Sites
Boreal forest ecozone is under represented on the World Heritage List in relation to their global total area. Of the natural sites included on the List, twelve are located in the boreal ecozone. These sites are located in four countries (Russia, Sweden, Canada and the USA).
The boreal ecozone contains several features of outstanding universal value such as unique forest and wetlands ecosystems and species assemblages, habitats for rare and endangered species, the world's largest intact frontier forests, geologically and geomorphologically unique territories, and areas of superlative natural beauty. The workshop also recognized another feature of outstanding value in the unique cultural heritage representing the diverse lifestyles of several indigenous peoples and ethnic sub-groups that have inhabited the boreal forest regions for thousands of years and maintain their traditional lifestyles. The boreal forests and associated wetlands are also globally important freshwater resources and carbon sinks for the world.
Furthermore, boreal forests and the cultural heritages supported by this ecozone are currently under threat due to extensive industrial activities and climate change. As a result, the Proceedings of the World Heritage Boreal Workshop (October 2003) have been added to the list of under-represented themes on the World Heritage List, which guides the World Heritage Committee when evaluating new WHS nominations.
WHS Inscription Process
World Heritage Site (WHS) nominations can be made by countries that are signatory to the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (the Convention). Nominations are evaluated by two independent Advisory Bodies - ICOMOS (the International Council on Monuments and Sites) for cultural properties and IUCN (World Conservation Union) for natural properties. ICOMOS and IUCN work together for the evaluation of mixed (natural and cultural) properties, while IUCN also provides input, where relevant, to the ICOMOS evaluation of cultural landscapes.
The evaluation is a rigorous, year-long process, after which the IUCN provides recommendations to the UNESCO intergovernmental World Heritage Committee. The Committee then decides which sites to inscribe on the World Heritage List. In addition,
The IUCN evaluation process includes a field mission to each nominated site to meet the authorities and stakeholders, and to assess the management and integrity of the site. IUCN also seeks input from international experts knowledgeable about the sites or the natural values they represent. These reviewers carry out desk reviews of each nomination and provide views on their global significance, management and integrity.
The Nomination File, which is evaluated by the Advisory Bodies and the World Heritage Committee (see Box: Steps in the WHS Nomination Process below) must, for example, include the following information, as per Section III of the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention:
View IUCN's Defining Protected Area Management Categories
- Identification of the Property
- - detailed maps, including topographic maps, to boundaries and buffer zones (if applicable) of the nomination
- Description of the Property
- - overview of nomination area's history and development; how the property has reached its present form and the significant changes that it has undergone; information shall support and give substance to the argument that the property meets the criteria of outstanding universal value and conditions of integrity and/or authenticity.
- Justification for Inscription
- - indicate the World Heritage criteria under which the property is proposed, with a clearly stated argument for the use of each criterion; Statement of Outstanding Universal Value shall make clear why the property is considered to merit inscription on the World Heritage List; comparative analysis of the property in relation to similar properties shall explain the importance of the nominated property in its national and international context; Statements of Integrity and/or Authenticity shall demonstrate how the property satisfies the conditions as outlined Section IIE of the Operational Guidelines
- State of Conservation and Factors Affecting the Property
- - accurate information on the present state of conservation of the property (including information on physical condition of the property and conservation measures in place); description of factors affecting the property (including threats)
- Protection and Management
- - Protection - list of the legislative, regulatory, contractual, planning, institutional and/ or traditional measures most relevant to the protection of the property; detailed analysis of the way in which this protection actually operates
- - Management - provide appropriate management plan or other management system; demonstrate how effective implementation of the management plan or other management system will occur
- - key indicators proposed to measure and assess conservation of the property, the factors affecting it, conservation measures at the property, the periodicity of their examination, and identity of the responsible authorities
- - all documentation to substantiate the nomination
View the World Heritage Committee's Criteria for the assessment of outstanding universal value
Download the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention (PDF)
Steps in WHS Nomination Process
- 1 - Countries' Tentative Lists
- The first step to be taken by a country is the creation of an 'inventory' of its important natural and cultural heritage sites, known as the Tentative List, . The Tentative List is the list of sites that a country may decide to submit for WHS inscription in the next five to ten years. It may be updated at any time. The World Heritage Committee cannot consider a nomination for inscription on the World Heritage List unless the property has already been included on the country's Tentative List.
- 2 - Preparation of the Nomination File & Meeting Selection Criteria
- The Nomination File is prepared in accordance with Section III Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention (the Operational Guidelines) and must be as exhaustive as possible, and ensure the necessary documentation and maps are included. To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria listed in Section IID of the Operational Guidelines. When the Nomination File is submitted, the World Heritage Centre reviews it and checks to make sure it is complete. Complete Nomination Files are then sent by the World Heritage Centre to the appropriate Advisory Bodies for evaluation.
- 3 - Evaluation: The Advisory Bodies
- Two Advisory Bodies mandated by the World Heritage Convention - the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) - independently evaluate WHS nominations. Their evaluations are provided to the World Heritage Committee. A third Advisory Body - the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) - is an intergovernmental organization which provides the Committee with expert advice on conservation of cultural sites, as well as on training activities.
- 4 - World Heritage Committee Decision
- Following the nomination and evaluation stages, the intergovernmental World Heritage Committee makes the final decision on WHS inscription. Once a year, the Committee meets to decide which sites will be inscribed on the World Heritage List. It can also defer its decision and request further information on sites from the nominating country