Is there a place you have never been, but always felt a special connection to? From Peru’s Machu Picchu to Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the Temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia to the Canadian Rocky Mountains, these wonders of the world are as diverse as they come. But they have one thing in common – they are part of the UNESCO World Heritage. Today 1,157 sites strong, we cannot help but feel the connection to these outstanding places that tell the stories of our shared humanity.
As citizens, we also share the responsibility to protect them. As the UN agency dedicated to culture, we pride ourselves on our leading expertise to identify, evaluate and reinforce efforts to safeguard heritage. We bring together governments, communities, heritage experts and non-governmental organizations to explore and realize a vision of heritage as a global public good.
Here at UNESCO, we also work to enhance the enjoyment and access to World Heritage through responsible use of new technologies. This is why we are pleased to partner with Google Arts & Culture for the International Day for Monuments and Sites once again, to invite people around the world to visit these places near and far through the ever-growing collection of virtual visits.
What is World Heritage
World Heritage is an official designation given to a site following careful consideration of a proposal submitted by the country and evaluations undertaken by experts.
Whether a property is awarded this designation is determined by the World Heritage Committee. The Committee, made up of 21 countries from all regions, meets once a year to deliberate if the proposed sites meet specific criteria and demonstrate what is called the “Outstanding Universal Value.” When a cultural or natural site has an OUV, it is “so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity.”
The preparation of the nominations is at once lengthy and intensive. UNESCO accompanies this process and ensures the completion of all necessary steps, so the work of the Committee can be done smoothly. Once a site is inscribed on the World Heritage list, we work with countries and communities towards sustainable protection and promotion.
Why it’s important
There is more to World Heritage sites than meets the eye. We must remember that these extraordinary places carry deep meanings for communities and beyond – urban centres layered with history, monuments embodying experiences of generations past, ancestral homes and hotspots for biodiversity. The protection of World Heritage, therefore, contributes to the remembrance of who we were and inspiration for who we want to become.
Sadly, the threats against natural and cultural sites are rising. According to our latest research, sixty per cent of World Heritage forests are threatened by climate change-related events, while glaciers in one-third of World Heritage sites are set to disappear by 2050.
In the face of climate-induced threats, UNESCO works with partners and countries to better monitor these impacts. For example, the Urban Heritage Climate Observatory brings together stakeholders across climate science, urban heritage, and Earth observation to document the effects of climate change on World Heritage cities using Earth Observations tools. Such data can inspire adaptation measures that correspond to the risks and impacts. Another interesting UNESCO project is the Environmental DNA Expeditions, a citizen science initiative for marine World Heritage sites. Throughout 2023, volunteers around the world are gathering water samples that help determine the species richness of the area without extracting living organisms – embodying UNESCO’s ethical, inclusive and innovative approach to safeguarding.
World Heritage is about what we share. No matter where we are from, we all have the right to appreciate the outstanding heritage around the world.
On this International Day for Monuments and Sites, I invite you to take a journey of humanity through online exhibitions of World Heritage sites.