World Heritage
World Heritage

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World Heritage

2.3.4 A wider vision?

The global and typological distribution of World Heritage sites revealed by these data was historically even more biased than at present. But they also suggest that the initiative launched by the World Heritage Centre in 1994 to promote a global strategy for a more balanced, representative and credible World Heritage List has been at least partially successful. By the early 1990s it had become obvious that despite more than twenty years of work World Heritage lacked balance in the types of property and the geographical areas represented. Of 410 registered sites, 304 were cultural only 90 natural and 16 mixed, the great majority in developed regions of the globe, notably Europe.

It is worth examining this 1994 resume of UNESCO global strategy, asking three questions as we do so. What were the key objectives of the strategy? Why were they regarded as necessary? What was the outcome?

The objectives of the Global Strategy

By adopting the Global Strategy, the World Heritage Committee wanted to broaden the definition of World Heritage to better reflect the full spectrum of our world’s cultural and natural treasures and to provide a comprehensive framework and operational methodology for implementing the World Heritage Convention.

This new vision goes beyond the narrow definitions of heritage and strives to recognise and protect sites that are outstanding demonstrations of human coexistence with the land as well as human interactions, cultural coexistence, spirituality and creative expression.

Crucial to the Global Strategy are efforts to encourage countries to become States Parties to the Convention, to prepare Tentative Lists and to prepare nominations of properties from categories and regions currently not well-represented on the World Heritage List.


A global study carried out by ICOMOS from 1987 to 1993 revealed that Europe, historic towns and religious monuments, Christianity, historical periods and ‘elitist’ architecture (in relation to vernacular) were all overrepresented on the World Heritage List; whereas, all living cultures, and especially ‘traditional cultures’, were under-represented.

At its 28th session in 2004, the World Heritage Committee reviewed more recent analysis of the World Heritage List and the Tentative Lists prepared by ICOMOS and IUCN. Both analyses were carried out on regional, chronological, geographical and thematic bases in order to evaluate the progress of the Global Strategy.

ICOMOS’s study found that the reasons for the gaps in the World Heritage List fall into two main categories:

Structural – relating to the World Heritage nomination process, and to managing and protecting cultural properties; and qualitative – relating to the way properties are identified, assessed and evaluated.

lUCN’s study pointed out that the natural and mixed sites currently inscribed on the World Heritage List cover almost all regions and habitats of the world with a relatively balanced distribution. However, there are still major gaps in the World Heritage List for natural areas such as: tropical/temperate grasslands, savannas, lake systems, tundra and polar systems, and cold winter deserts.

Ongoing efforts

Since the launching of the Global Strategy, 39 new countries have ratified the World Heritage Convention, many from small Pacific Island States, Eastern Europe, Africa and Arab States.

The number of countries around the globe that have signed the World Heritage Convention in the course of the last ten years has risen from 139 to 178. The number of States Parties who have submitted Tentative Lists complying with the format established by the Committee has grown from 33 to 132. New categories for World Heritage sites have also been promoted, such as the categories of cultural landscapes, itineraries, industrial heritage, deserts, coastal-marine and small-island sites.

Important conferences and thematic studies aimed at implementing the Global Strategy have been held in Africa, the Pacific and Andean subregions, the Arab and Caribbean regions, central Asia and south-east Asia. These well-focused studies have become important guides for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention in these regions. In an effort to further enhance the under-represented categories of sites and improve geographical coverage, the World Heritage Committee has recently decided to limit the number of nominations that can be presented by each State Party and the number of nominations it will review during its session.

The World Heritage Committee works in co-operation with every State Party to the World Heritage Convention as well as its three Advisory Bodies: ICOMOS, IUCN and ICCROM [International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property], in order to make greater strides in diversifying the World Heritage List and make it truly balanced and representative of the world’s heritage.

(UNESCO, 1994)

The most important aims were seen as broadening the definitions of World Heritage, encouraging other countries to sign up, prepare lists or make nominations, especially of categories and regions poorly represented. These steps were obviously necessary because the list was dominated by the European ‘canon’ of (mainly) cultural sites. In contradistinction to the ‘canon’ the strategy advocated a more ‘representative sample’ of heritage sites on the list, improved geographical coverage and the promotion of new heritages. The two advisory NGOs, ICOMOS and IUCN, noted structural and qualitative problems, and the latter also saw major gaps, in particular types of natural environments that remained unrepresented. The outcome was that more countries signed up to the convention, helping the process of diversification.

This suggests much greater diversity in heritages – greater inclusion – but not necessarily a significant move away from essentially elite culture dominated by the European mind set – or at least that of the developed world. But it is obviously a slow process of change, not helped, even the international heritage professionals recognise, by the mountain of bureaucracy World Heritage represents.

Having examined something of the structures and processes in the development of World Heritage we move on to look at various types of heritage backed up with some case studies.


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