World Heritage Convention


In 1972, UNESCO recognised the need to identify and permanently protect the world's special areas and adopted the World Heritage Convention. Founded on the principle of international cooperation, the Convention provides for the protection of the world's cultural and natural heritage places. It came into force in 1975 after being initially ratified by 20 countries. 

By adopting the Convention in August 1974, Australia became one of the first of more than 140 countries committed to the identification, protection, conservation and presentation of World Heritage properties.

The Convention is UNESCO's most widely accepted international instrument and also the world's most ratified agreement on conservation.

Cappadocia Turkey World Heritage site
Photographer: Stephen Eric Woods

The World Heritage Convention is administered by the World Heritage Committee which consists of 21 elected nations, all parties to the Convention.

Elections are held every two years. The Committee's function is to:

  • identify nominated cultural and natural properties of outstanding universal value which are to be protected under the Convention and to list them on the World Heritage List
  • decide if properties on the list should be inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger
  • determine how and under what conditions the World Heritage Fund can be used to assist countries to protect their World Heritage property.

The World Heritage Bureau is the executive body of the World Heritage Committee. Only the national governments of member countries can nominate properties for the World Heritage list. Nominations go through a lengthy process of evaluation. The World Heritage Bureau evaluates all nominations. In addition, the International Council of Monuments (ICOMOS) and the International Cente for Conservation in Rome (ICCROM) evaluate nominations for cultural sites and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) evaluates nominations for natural properties. Their recommendations are passed to the World Heritage Bureau which, in turn, reports its recommendations and the need for any additional information to the World Heritage Committee. The Committee examines the nominations at its annual meeting and decides if a property is to be listed or not.

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