The UNESCO World Heritage List Has All the World’s Top Attractions – But How Do They Qualify for It?

The Sydney Opera House in Australia, Kinabalu Park in Malaysia, Robben Island in South Africa and the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. It may seem that these attractions have nothing in common with each being in such different parts of the world and being so different from each other, but they actually do. In addition to being popular destinations for tourists, these and 1,088 other awesome sites are part of the elite UNESCO World Heritage List.

What Is the UNESCO World Heritage List?

The UNESCO World Heritage List is a collection of buildings, landmarks and locations around the world that have been reserved for their special cultural or physical significance. They could be something man-made like the Pyramids in Egypt and the Notre Dame Cathedral in France or natural wonders like Komodo National Park in Indonesia and the Okavango Delta in Botswana. All these amazing sites are divided into three categories – Cultural Sites, Natural Sites and Mixed Sites. There are also a number of sites that are currently in danger due to many reasons including war and rapid development. This list is therefore vital to ensure that these beautiful sites are preserved for our future generations.     

How Does a Site Get into the UNESCO World Heritage List?

The Notre Dame Cathedral in France. Image: Gregory Basil

If you thought getting on the list was as simple as sending in a form and getting the committee to return it with a stamp of approval, we’ve got news for you. Getting on the UNESCO World Heritage List involves a stringent process. A VERY STRINGENT PROCESS. One way of looking at it is: a super elite fraternity with only the best of the best. And just like any fraternity, there’s an initiation process minus the hazing of course. So yes, not just any site will make it on the list.

Even the nomination process is not easy. Not everyone is eligible to suggest nomination proposals. The nominations can only be made by countries that have signed the World Heritage Convention.

What is the World Heritage Convention, you ask?

Well, it is a pledge countries sign to protect their natural and cultural heritage. Only countries that have signed this can submit proposals for their sites to be considered in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

But before a site gets nominated, it needs to meet…

The Selection Criteria

The Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.

These are a set of requirements tabled by the World Heritage Committee and the site has to fulfil at least one criterion to qualify for nomination.

These criteria are:

  1. The site must represent the genius of human creativity.
  2. The site has to exhibit an exchanging of human values.
  3. The site has to be significant to cultural tradition.
  4. The site has to be significant in the evolution of human history.
  5. The site has to be an example of a traditional human settlement.
  6. The site has to be directly linked with events or living traditions, ideas, beliefs, artistic and literary works of universal significance.
  7. The site should contain natural phenomena or areas that are exceptionally beautiful.
  8. The site has to highlight major changes of Earth’s history.
  9. The site has to be important to ecological and biological processes.
  10. The site must be an important natural habitat for biodiversity.

Phew, like we said, these are very stringent criteria, so it’s no walk in the park to be listed in the World Heritage List. And if you don’t understand the criteria, don’t worry. It took us a while to read through them and understand them as well.

The Nomination Process

The Sydney Opera House in Australia. Image: Julian Yeo

The nomination process is a four-step process that begins with:

1. A Tentative List

This step involves the country making an inventory of its natural and cultural sites. This inventory is known as The Tentative List. The list is then submitted to the local State Party, which then submits it to the World Heritage Committee.

2. The Nomination File

Now with The Tentative List, the State Party has to present a nomination file. A nomination file includes all the necessary documentation and maps and other relevant documents that may help with the site being considered for the list. The World Heritage Centre sometimes assists and gives advice in the preparation of these paperwork. Once the documents are ready and complete, The World Heritage Centre submits it to the Advisory Bodies for evaluation.

3. The Advisory Bodies

The nomination is then evaluated  by two Advisory Bodies – the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). There is a third Advisory Body known as the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) and this body is tasked with providing the World Heritage Committee with advice on conserving cultural sites.

4. The World Heritage Committee

After reviewing the paperwork and listening to the evaluation, The World Heritage Committee now has to decide whether to include the site on the list. The committee meets annually to discuss which sites should be added to the list.

Now you know what it takes to be part of this elite World Heritage List. Look out for more fantastic articles on the World Heritage List this week. And don’t forget to tell us which World Heritage Sites you’ve been to.