UNESCO and the World Heritage List

Adopted by UNESCO in 1972, the World Heritage Convention established the World Heritage List to identify, protect and preserve cultural and natural heritage sites around the world that are thought to be of outstanding value to humanity. The World Heritage List is a means of acknowledging that these sites are important enough to deserve recognition by the international community. Membership is the most significant global designation any site can achieve. 

The World Heritage List now numbers 962 properties, including 745 cultural, 188 natural and 29 mixed properties. Sixteen of these sites are in Canada.

Individual countries bring their nominations to UNESCO's World Heritage Committee, which makes its selections based on specific selection criteria:

  • A cultural property could be a masterpiece of creative genius; have exerted great architectural influence; be associated with ideas or beliefs of universal significance; or be an outstanding example of a traditional way of life that represents a certain culture.
  • A natural property may exemplify major stages of the earth's history; represent significant ongoing ecological and biological processes; contain the natural habitats of threatened species; or be a setting of exceptional beauty.

Three organizations advise the Committee in its work: the International Council on Monuments and Sites; the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property; and the World Conservation Union. 

The Committee also works with other bodies, such as the Organization of World Heritage Cities and the International Council of Museums.