World Heritage Convention
Volume 3 Number 2 - June 1999
The Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage arose from a need to stimulate international cooperation to protect the world's natural and scenic areas and historic sites for present and the future generations.
In 1959 there was international concern over the flooding of the Abu Simbel temples, a treasure of ancient Egyptian civilization, to build the Aswan High Dam in Egypt. Through an international campaign by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) on the request of Egypt and Sudan, resources were found to move the temples to a new site. In 1965, a conference at the White House in Washington DC, U.S.A. called for a “World Heritage Trust" to stimulate international cooperation to protect "the world's superb natural and scenic areas and historic sites for the present and the future of the entire world citizenry”. In 1969, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) developed similar proposals for its members. Subsequently, the Convention was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO in 1972. By regarding heritage as both cultural and natural, the Convention reminds us of the ways in which people interact with nature, and of the fundamental need to preserve the balance between the two.
The Convention defines the kind of natural or cultural sites which can be considered for inscription on the World Heritage List, and sets out the duties of States Parties in identifying potential sites and their role in protecting and preserving them. Although the emphasis has been on sites and natural features of “outstanding universal value”, each country pledges to conserve not only the World Heritage sites situated on its territory, but also adopt a general policy to protect, conserve and present its cultural and natural heritage.
There is also a "List of World Heritage in Danger" which are sites threatened by serious and specific dangers such as large-scale public or private projects, or destruction caused by changes in the use or ownership of the land, human conflict or natural disasters for which assistance can be given.
UNESCO provides the Convention's Secretariat which supports the World Heritage Committee, which is composed of 15 elected States of those which are Parties to the Convention. Three international non-governmental or intergovernmental organizations advise the Committee. For natural properties it is the IUCN-The World Conservation Union, for cultural properties it is the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and for the restoration and training of cultural properties it is the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM).
To date, there are over 150 countries have adhered to the Convention and there are 582 properties on the World Heritage List (445 cultural, 117 natural and 20 mixed properties in 114 countries).
Mixed sites have both outstanding natural and cultural values. Equally important is the authenticity or integrity of the site and the way it is protected and managed. Listing a site does little good if it subsequently falls into a state of disrepair or if a development project risks destroying the qualities that made the site suitable for World Heritage status in the first place.
Importance for botanic gardens
This Convention is important for botanic gardens in several ways. Gardens can apply to be included on the World Heritage List as a cultural site. Botanic gardens can promote and support applications for natural areas. The benefit of inclusion is the support of the international community to protect, conserve and present our heritage. Botanic gardens can support this work through their research, plant collections, horticultural and education programmes. The application for a site to be inscribed on the World Heritage List must come from the country itself.
Articles of the World Heritage Convention which are relevant to botanic gardens and their primary contributions to their implementation
Each State Party to this Convention recognizes that the duty of ensuring the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and transmission to future generations of the cultural and natural heritage . . i.e those sites which can be considered for inscription on the World Heritage List.
“To ensure that effective and active measures are taken for the protection, conservation and presentation of the cultural and natural heritage situated on its territory, each State Party to this Convention shall endeavour, in so far as possible, and as appropriate for each country:
- to adopt a general policy which aims to give the cultural and natural heritage a function in the life of the community and to integrate the protection of that heritage into comprehensive planning programmes;
- to set up within its territories, where such services do not exist, one or more services for the protection, conservation and presentation of the cultural and natural heritage with an appropriate staff and possessing the means to discharge their functions;
- to develop scientific and technical studies and research and to work out such operating methods as will make the State capable of counteracting the dangers that threaten its cultural or natural heritage;
- to take the appropriate legal, scientific, technical, administrative and financial measures necessary for the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and rehabilitation of this heritage; and
- to foster the establishment or development of national or regional centres for training in the protection, conservation and presentation of the cultural and natural heritage and to encourage scientific research in this field.
Gardens can support the national policy by being involved with national planning programmes. They can use their skills in habitat management to counteract the dangers that threaten the natural heritage.
Every State Party to this Convention shall, in so far as possible, submit to the World Heritage Committee an inventory of property forming part of the cultural and natural heritage, situated in its territory and suitable for inclusion in the list . . . This inventory, which shall not be considered exhaustive, shall include documentation about the location of the property in question and its significance.
. . . .The Committee shall establish, keep up to date and publish, whenever circumstances shall so require, under the title of "list of World Heritage in Danger", a list of the property appearing in the World Heritage List for the conservation of which major operations are necessary and for which assistance has been requested under this Convention.
Botanic gardens are in a position to provide inventories for the properties and information in support of nominations for the "List of World Heritage in Danger". They can be integral in supporting the presentation of the cultural and national heritage through education programmes and materials
Article 15A Fund for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage of Outstanding Universal Value, called "the World Heritage Fund".
A trust fund for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage of Outstanding Universal Value was established, called “the World Heritage Fund”. This fund is made up of compulsory and voluntary contributions made by States Parties to this Convention and contributions, gifts or bequests which may be made by other States, public or private bodies or individuals. Any State Party to this Convention may request international assistance for property forming part of the cultural or natural heritage of outstanding universal value situated within its territory.
describes the assistance granted by the World Heritage Fund. It may take the following forms:
- studies concerning the artistic, scientific and technical problems raised by the protection, conservation, presentation and rehabilitation of the cultural and natural heritage;
- provisions of experts, technicians and skilled labour to ensure that the approved work is correctly carried out;
- training of staff and specialists at all levels in the field of identification, protection, conservation, presentation and rehabilitation of the cultural and natural heritage;
- supply of equipment which the State concerned does not possess or is not in a position to acquire;
- ow-interest or interest-free loans which might be repayable on a long-term basis;
- the granting, in exceptional cases and for special reasons, of non-repayable subsidies.
The States Parties to this Convention shall endeavour by all appropriate means, and in particular by educational and information programmes, to strengthen appreciation and respect by their peoples of the cultural and natural heritage. . They shall undertake to keep the public broadly informed of the dangers threatening this heritage and of the activities carried on in pursuance of this Convention.
Botanic gardens are well placed to support their governments in educational programmes both in increasing the respect for heritage sites and providing information and educational materials to support the aims of the Convention. Gardens can apply to be included on the World Heritage List such as the Botanic Garden (Orto Botanico) of the University of Padua, Italy.
Padua University Botanic Garden: now a World Heritage Site
Now for the first time a botanic garden has been included in the List of World Heritage Sites. The World Heritage Committee, at its 21st Session at Naples in December 1997, announced the recognition of the Padua University Botanic Garden as a World Heritage Site. The Botanic Garden of the University of Padua is one of the two oldest botanical gardens in Europe, dating from 1545. It remains on its original site in the centre of the city of Padua in northern Italy, still arranged in its original design. It was designed as an adjunct to the medical school of the University, where in the 16th century world-breaking medical advances were made, especially in human anatomy, with which the name of the anatomist Andreas Versalius is associated. Later in the century, Galileo was also a professor at Padua.
In its announcement, the World Heritage Committee noted that the Padua Garden was at the starting point of botanic gardens in the world and represents the cradle of science, scientific exchanges and the understanding of the relationship between nature and culture. It greatly contributed to the development of many modern scientific disciplines, notably botany, medicine, chemistry, ecology and pharmacy.
According to the founding Convention of 1972, countries which include World Heritage Sites assume a responsibility to maintain conserve them. Thus the Italian national government is seeking parliamentary approval for a grant of 1.5 million Euros to create a buffer zone around the Garden and to cater for educational and scientific developments in the Garden.
The Garden management also intends to develop educational and information programs and set up a permanent exhibition showing the history and development of the Garden since its foundation.
Criteria for World Heritage List
The criteria for selection of sites to be included on the World Heritage List are explained in the Operational Guidelines. Cultural properties should:
- represent a masterpiece of human creative genius, or
- exhibit an important interchange of human values over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town planning or landscape design, or
- bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or has disappeared, or
- be an outstanding example of a type of building or architectural or technological ensemble, or landscape which illustrates a significant stage or significant stages in human history, or
- be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement or land-use which is representative of a culture or cultures, especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change, or
- be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas or with beliefs, or with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance (a criterion used only in exceptional circumstances, or together with other criteria).
Natural properties should:
- be outstanding examples representing major stages of the earth's history, including the record of life, significant ongoing geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features, or
- be outstanding examples representing significant ongoing ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals,
- contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance, or
- contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.
Joint Website of the Biodiversity-Related Conventions
The Convention and operational guidelines for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention. UNESCO, Paris 1997 (In English and French).