The Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (commonly known as the ‘World Heritage Convention’) is an international agreement adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) in 1972.
The Convention is based on the premise that certain places on earth are of ‘outstanding universal value’ and therefore they should be identified and safeguarded by the international community as a whole. The Convention is innovative as it links together the concept of conservation and preservation of both natural and cultural heritage. It recognizes the way in which people interact with nature, and the fundamental need to preserve the balance between the two.
The Convention defines the kind of natural or cultural sites that can be considered for inscription on the World Heritage List. Today, 194 countries (called States Parties) have ratified the Convention making it an almost universally accepted set of principles, and one of the most widely supported conventions of the United Nations.
The concept of World Heritage has universal application and promotes:
– the protection of our shared natural and cultural heritage though the establishment of World Heritage property management plans and state of conservation reports
– greater public awareness of places of Outstanding Universal Value to humanity
– the participation of the local population in the preservation of their cultural and natural heritage
– international cooperation in the conservation of our world’s cultural and natural heritage
– the provision of emergency assistance for World Heritage properties in immediate danger
Funded by the Flanders UNESCO Trustfund (FUT), the World Heritage Online Map Platform (WHOMP) is an online GIS monitoring tool for World Heritage, linked to existing UNESCO databases, displaying georeferenced boundaries of World Heritage sites and their buffer zones.
The platform seeks to facilitate the understanding of the boundaries of the World Heritage properties and their buffer zones, thus allowing better and earlier identification of potential impacts on their Outstanding Universal Value and helping States Parties to improve the monitoring of the state of conservation of the properties on their territory. This project represents a direct contribution to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and in particular to target 11.4 ‘Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world cultural and natural heritage’.
The World Heritage Convention established the World Heritage List as a means of identifying that some places, either natural, cultural or mixed are of such ‘outstanding universal value’ (OUV) as to be the responsibility of the international community as a whole.
Only countries that have signed the World Heritage Convention can submit nomination proposals for properties to be included in the List. The criteria for inclusion and assessment are set out in the UNESCO ‘Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention’.
The annual World Heritage Committee meeting reviews nominations for inscription on the World Heritage List. Three World Heritage properties are located on the island of Ireland:
1. Brú na Bóinne – Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyne (inscribed 1993)
2. Sceilg Mhichíl (inscribed 1996)
3. Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast (Northern Ireland, inscribed 1986)
Ireland ratified the 1972 World Heritage Convention in 1991 to ensure that our irreplaceable cultural and natural heritage is protected for the enjoyment of present and future generations.
The National Monuments Service in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is the Government’s focal point, or point of interface with the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and its lead agency for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention in Ireland. The Department as representative for the State Party to the Convention has the responsibility to develop the Tentative List and bring new sites forward for nomination on the World Heritage List.
The Department works alongside the Office of Public Works (responsible for the management and conservation of our state-owned World Heritage properties), and other agencies as required, to protect and manage our World Heritage.
In order to be inscribed on the World Heritage List a site must have ‘Outstanding Universal Value’. This means UNESCO has judged that the nominated site possess a “cultural and/or natural significance which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity and the permanent protection of its heritage is of the highest importance to the international community as a whole.”
The nomination process is the method devised by UNESCO for inscribing a site on the World Heritage List. Stakeholder input is essential to this nomination process. A wide variety of stakeholders, including site owners, local communities, NGOs, and other interested parties will be involved in addition to experts in the field of world heritage. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is responsible for managing the nomination of sites to UNESCO to the World Heritage List, on behalf of Ireland as State Party. Local Authorities, with the support of the Department, will lead the nomination process.
Tentative List Announcement
Inclusion on the Tentative List is the first step in the nomination process leading to a site being inscribed on the World Heritage List. A site must be included on the Tentative List for at least one year before nomination.
Engagement and Research Phase
– Engage all stakeholders
– Identify and fill research gaps
– Complete Comparative Study of similar sites
– Implement adequate protection and management systems for the site
Ongoing Assessment Phase
The Department, with the support of a World Heritage Technical Advisory Group, will assess progress of each nomination file regularly.
A standard format nomination dossier is submitted to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. The preparation of a nomination dossier is expected to take between 4 to 6 years.
1. Brú Na Bóinne nomination documentation
2. Sceilg Mhichíl nomination documentation
UNESCO Assessment Phase
Advisory Bodies to UNESCO (ICOMOS, ICCROM, & IUCN) assess whether nominations have Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) through a desktop assessment and an on-site assessment. To be deemed to have OUV a site must meet at least one of the ten World Heritage Criteria, the conditions on integrity and/or authenticity, and have adequate protection and management systems.
World Heritage Committee Decision
The World Heritage Committee votes on whether a nomination should be inscribed on the World Heritage List, taking into consideration the advice of the Advisory Bodies.
Click here for UNESCO’s Operational Guidelines.
World Heritage status does not affect ownership rights and World Heritage properties do not become public property, nor pass to any international body. Ownership remains as it was prior to the listing, and Irish laws still apply.
World Heritage designation will increase public interest and awareness in protecting the values of the site. Ireland will be under an obligation to undertake appropriate management of the site, and to report periodically on the site’s condition to the World Heritage Committee. Site management systems should be designed in close collaboration with local and national stakeholders to set out adequate preservation measures and monitoring mechanisms, while promoting sustainable tourism and local engagement. All properties inscribed on the World Heritage List must have adequate long-term legislative, regulatory, institutional and/or traditional protection and management to ensure their continued safeguarding.
UNESCO Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme
The MAB Programme was created in 1971 to examine the relationship between humanity and nature. Biosphere reserves are ‘living labratories’ that balance sustainable development with biodiversity conservation. There are two biosphere reserves designated in Ireland: Dublin Bay (1981) and Kerry (1982).
UNESCO Memory of the World (MoW) Programme
The MoW Programmewas established in 1992 to protect and preserve humanity’s documentary heritage. Ireland has two elements of documentary heritage inscribed on the MoW Register: The Book of Kells (2011) and The Irish Folklore Commission Collection 1935-1970 (2017).
UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN)
The UCCN was founded in 2004 to promote cooperation with and among cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development. The seven creative fields comprise Crafts and Folk Arts, Media Arts, Film, Design, Gastronomy, Literature, and Music. There are three Creative Cities on the island of Ireland: Dublin UNESCO City of Literature (2010), Galway UNESCO City of Film (2014), and Belfast UNESCO City of Music (2021).
UNESCO Global Geoparks (UGGp)
The Global Geoparks Network was formed in 2004 and rebranded in 2015 as ‘single, unified geographical areas where sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development.’ Ireland has three UGGps all designated in 2015: Cuilcagh Lakelands Global Geopark (world’s first transnational Geopark), Copper Coast Global Geopark, and Burren and Cliffs of Moher Global Geopark.
UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
The Representative List, launched in 2008, is made up of intangible cultural heritage elements that help demonstrate the diversity of humanity’s heritage and raise awareness of its importance. Ireland has four elements inscribed on the Representative List: Uilleann Piping (2017), Hurling (2018), Irish Harping (2019), and a multinational inscription Falconry, a living human heritage (2021).