Protecting the natural and cultural heritage is increasingly threatened with destruction not only by the traditional causes of decay, but also by changing social and economic conditions which aggravate the situation with even more formidable phenomena of damage or destruction.
The Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, 1972 (World Heritage Convention) provides a framework for the identification and protection of natural and cultural areas which are of outstanding interest and to ensure the protection of the listed sites through closer cooperation among nations. Parties to the Convention are required to identify areas as natural or cultural heritage, which includes cultural landscapes.
The World Heritage Committee decides whether a natural heritage site is to be included in the World Heritage List. This list comprises natural or man-made sites regarded as being of outstanding universal value and have international recognition. The World Heritage List included in January 1999, 582 sites, of which 117 were natural heritage areas and 20 were both cultural and natural heritage areas.
Sites included in the World Heritage List which are threatened by serious and specific dangers qualify for the List of World Heritage in Danger. This is a List of the property whose conservation requires major and urgent action. Such property is threatened by specific and proven dangers, such as the threat of disappearance caused by accelerated deterioration, large-scale public or private projects or rapid urban or tourist development projects; destruction caused by changes in the use or ownership of the land; major alterations due to unknown causes; abandonment for any reason whatsoever; the outbreak or the threat of an armed conflict; calamities and cataclysms; serious fires, earthquakes, landslides; volcanic eruptions; changes in water level, floods and tidal waves.
Both Lists provide a mechanism for giving international recognition to some of the most outstanding natural habitats in the world. Articles 4 and 5 set out the obligations on parties to protect and conserve natural heritage situated on their territory. Areas that constitute the habitat of threatened species of animals and plants of outstanding universal science or conservation value can also be considered as natural heritage and qualify for listing.
A World Heritage Fund is established which may be used to protect sites on the Lists. The World Heritage Committee decides whether an example of natural heritage is to be included in the List (on the basis of "Operational Guidelines"). State of conservation reports are presented to the World Heritage Committee and its bureau bi-annually in cooperation with the advisory bodies to the Convention, IUCN and the International Council on Monuments and Sites. Monitoring is to be carried out of the condition and conservation status of World Heritage properties. Reports are public. The World Heritage Centre (the secretariat of the Convention) has designed a comprehensive monitoring methodology. Assistance may be asked by the States party to the Convention to conserve their listed heritage. The World Heritage Information Network (WHIN) is a clearing house for information about World Heritage sites and the organization partners involved with their protection. WHIN is an initiative of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre.
The safeguarding of the physical and non-physical heritage should be regarded as one of the major assets of a multidimensional type of development which will ensure the best possible general living conditions for both present and future generations.