Conservation, at the core of the World Heritage Convention
Article 4 of the World Heritage Convention refers to the conservation of properties inscribed on the World Heritage List and indicates that “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 (…) situated on its territory, (… and) will do all it can to this end (…)”.
Furthermore, Paragraph 169 of the Operational Guidelines provides a detailed definition of the reactive monitoring process (“SOC process”) as being the “reporting by the Secretariat (…) and the Advisory Bodies to the Committee on the state of conservation of specific World Heritage properties that are under threat (…)”. These reports on the state of conservation of selected properties are examined each year by the World Heritage Committee. Since1979, over 3.000 state of conservation reports (“SOC reports”) were prepared and represent an exceptional documentation on conservation issues; one of the most comprehensive monitoring systems of any international conventions.
A need to identify trends
At its 32nd session (Quebec City, 2008), the World Heritage Committee requested the World Heritage Centre to prepare an analytical summary of the state of conservation of the properties discussed at the 32nd session, identifying perceived trends (Decision 32 COM 7B.129).
The following year, at its 33rd session (Seville, 2009), after having taken note of this analytical summary the World Heritage Committee requested the World Heritage Centre to prepare an analytical summary of the perceived trends, changes and threats to properties, based on an analysis of the state of conservation of World Heritage properties over five years (2005-2009) (Decision 33 COM 7C). This document (WHC-10/34.COM/7C), examined by the World Heritage Committee at its 34th session (Brasilia, 2010), was welcomed, as the basis for further reflection and more extensive analysis of this information. The Committee also considered that this work highlighted the need for more systematic monitoring of threats and of how to identify and react to emerging trends.
Subsequently, the Committee welcomed the offer made by the Governments of Australia and Senegal to organize an expert meeting on strategies to address global state of conservation challenges (Decision 34 COM 10D) (Dakar, Senegal, 13-15 April 2011, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/events/740/). The main objectives of this expert meeting were to identify trends/themes in state of conservation reporting, to facilitate information sharing on management approaches to common problems, to consider what guidance was available to assist States Parties prevent and mitigate threats, and to discuss issues to include in policy approaches to common threats. The meeting aimed at proposing improvements to the processes and procedures used to monitor the state of conservation of World Heritage properties.
At its 35th session (UNESCO, 2011), after having endorsed the recommendations of the Dakar expert meeting (Decision 35 COM 7C), the World Heritage Committee pursued its on-going reflection on the trends of the state of conservation of properties and, considering “the need for more systematic monitoring of threats”, called upon the States Parties to the Convention to support the proposed establishment of a comprehensive "State of conservation Information System" to support analytical studies and assist all stakeholders in site-management, with the target to make this system operational, on the World Heritage Centre's website, by the 37th session of the World Heritage Committee in 2013.
The completion of the Information System project
In response to Decision 35 COM 7C, the World Heritage Centre designed a project aiming at developing such Information System for all stakeholders of the Convention and presented it to various potential donors. The Flemish Government responded positively to support this ambitious project.
The main objective of the project consisted in the development of a comprehensive and integrated computerized information system (database) on the state of conservation of the World Heritage properties examined by the World Heritage Committee since 1979, and on the factors identified as negatively affecting their Outstanding Universal Value. In addition, this Information System should allow users to link the numerous documents related to the state of conservation of a specific property (SOC reports, reports by the State Party, mission reports, Committee decisions, etc.), which were archived in various formats and disseminated in various webpages.
After a 2-year development phase, the State of conservation Information System was completed at the end of September 2013, hosted on the World Heritage Centre’s website at https://whc.unesco.org/en/soc, and integrated with all other current databases (on Nominations, International Assistance, Tentative Lists, States Parties information, statutory documentation, World Heritage Committee’s decisions, etc.). This tool is publicly available for all stakeholders of the Convention.
The Information System comes with an advanced search function (per year, per property, per State Party, per Region, per type of threat, etc.) in order to extract the set of data required by the users and to provide the relevant statistics and charts.
In addition to its purpose in monitoring the state of conservation of properties, this Information System also highly contributes to the institutional memory of the World Heritage Convention and facilitates well-informed and consistent decision-making.
This tool also allows all users to conduct comprehensive analyses of the threats affecting the properties and their evolution over time. These analyses help identify generic threats, underlying key issues and potential trends over time. They also assist States Parties to improve the mitigation measures to better protect their properties.
- The World Heritage State of Conservation Information System – 5 Successful Years ! Tuesday, 5 December 2017
- World Heritage Centre and IUCN representatives start dialogue towards better protection of the Sundarbans Monday, 31 October 2016
- World Heritage Centre and IUCN call for relocation of Rampal power plant, a serious threat to the Sundarbans Tuesday, 18 October 2016
- UNESCO welcomes restoration of sacred gate of Sidi Yahia in Timbuktu Tuesday, 20 September 2016
- Reactive Monitoring Mission to take place at Wood Buffalo National Park World Heritage property (Canada) Friday, 16 September 2016