Reactive Monitoring Process

Once a site is inscribed on the World Heritage List (and becomes a “World Heritage property”), the State Party has to ensure that effective and active measures are taken for its protection, conservation and presentation.

To do so, States Parties are encouraged to establish services for the protection, conservation and presentation of the heritage, to take appropriate legal, scientific, technical, administrative and financial measures to protect the heritage, not to not take any deliberate measures that directly or indirectly damage their heritage or that of another State Party to the Convention, and finally to provide information to the World Heritage Committee on the implementation of the Convention and on the state of conservation of their properties. To ensure that all possible measures are taken to prevent the deletion of any property from the World Heritage List, the World Heritage Committee adopted a specific process: the Reactive Monitoring.

What is Reactive Monitoring?

Reactive Monitoring is defined in Paragraph 169 of the Operational Guidelines for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention as being "the reporting by the World Heritage Centre, other sectors of UNESCO and the Advisory Bodies to the World Heritage Committee on the state of conservation of specific World Heritage properties that are under threat". Reactive Monitoring is foreseen in the procedures for the inclusion of properties in the List of World Heritage in Danger and for the removal of properties from the World Heritage List.

States Parties to the Convention are invited to inform the Committee, through the World Heritage Centre, of their intention to undertake or to authorize in an area protected under the Convention major restorations or new constructions which may affect the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. Notice should be given as soon as possible (for instance, before drafting basic documents for specific projects) and before making any decisions that would be difficult to reverse, so that the Committee may assist in seeking appropriate solutions to ensure that the Outstanding Universal Value of the property is fully preserved.

Furthermore, when the World Heritage Centre receives information that a property inscribed has seriously deteriorated, or that the necessary corrective measures have not been taken within the time proposed, from a source other than the State Party concerned, it will, as far as possible, verify the source and the contents of the information in consultation with the State Party concerned and request its comments.

The information received, together with the comments of the State Party and the Advisory Bodies, will then be brought to the attention of the Committee in the form of a state of conservation report for each property.

Which properties are reported on?

The properties to be reported upon are selected among all those inscribed on the World Heritage List, according to the following considerations:
  • Properties inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger;
  • Properties inscribed on the World Heritage List for which state of conservation reports and/or reactive monitoring missions were requested by the World Heritage Committee at previous sessions;
  • Properties which have come under threat since the last session of the World Heritage Committee and which require urgent actions in addition to the consultations and discussions which normally take place between the State Party, the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies in order to address the threat;
  • Properties for which, upon inscription on the World Heritage List, follow-up was requested by the World Heritage Committee.

The World Heritage Centre (often in collaboration with UNESCO Field offices and other Programme Sectors) and the Advisory Bodies review throughout the year a considerable amount of information on the state of conservation of World Heritage properties. In many cases, a report to the World Heritage Committee is not required, as issues are resolved through consultations and discussions with the State Party concerned, or through expert advice provided on a specific project. In some cases, States Parties decide to invite an advisory mission to review a specific issue potentially affecting the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property.

How are the state of conservation reports elaborated?

The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies review all information available on the state of conservation reports (SOC) foreseen for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its next session: SOC reports submitted by the State Party, information received from third parties, press articles, mission reports, comments and feed-back on these by the State Party, etc.

An essential source of information are the SOC reports submitted by the States Parties concerned before the statutory deadline upon request by the World Heritage Committee (Paragraph 169 of the Operational Guidelines) or upon a request for information on specific issues by the World Heritage Centre.  This report is the opportunity for a State Party to bring all relevant information to the attention of the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies. States Parties are also encouraged to submit detailed information on development projects which can impact on the OUV to inform the World Heritage Centre, in conformity with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines.

To enhance institutional memory, improve transparency of processes and easier access to the relevant information by the largest number of stakeholders, the World Heritage Committee encouraged all States Parties to make public the reports submitted on the state of conservation of World Heritage properties through the World Heritage Centre’s State of conservation Information System (Decision 37 COM 7C). 

As indicated above, the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies also receive information from other sources than the State Party (NGOs, individuals, press articles, etc.). In such cases, in accordance with Paragraph 174 of the Operational Guidelines, the information received is communicated to the State Party to verify the source and content of information and get clarification on the reported issue. The State Party’s response is then reviewed by the relevant Advisory Bodies and integrated in the SOC report if the threat is confirmed.

The SOC report is then prepared jointly by the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies and presented as a working document for examination by the World Heritage Committee.

It is to be noted that States Parties can contribute to ensuring the accuracy of the SOC reports through several “entry points”:

  • State Party’s report on the state of conservation to be submitted to the World Heritage Centre,
  • Specific information submitted in advance by the State Party, in application of Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines,
  • State Party’s reply to World Heritage Centre’s letters regarding specific information received from other sources, in application of Paragraph 174 of the Operational Guidelines,
  • Information provided by the State Party during a reactive monitoring mission,
  • Comments by the State Party to the reactive monitoring mission report.

What are the decisions of the World Heritage Committee?

Subsequently to the examination of the SOC report during its ordinary session, the World Heritage Committee adopts a decision, which may take one or more of the following steps:
  • it may decide that the property has not seriously deteriorated and that no further action should be taken;
  • when the Committee considers that the property has seriously deteriorated, but not to the extent that its restoration is impossible, it may decide that the property be maintained on the World Heritage List, provided that the State Party takes the necessary measures to restore the property within a reasonable period of time. The Committee may also decide that technical co-operation be provided under the World Heritage Fund for work connected with the restoration of the property, proposing to the State Party to request such assistance, if it has not already been done;
  • when specific requirements and criteria are met, the Committee may decide to inscribe the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger (see Paragraphs 177-189 of the Operational Guidelines);
  • when there is evidence that the property has deteriorated to the point where it has irretrievably lost those characteristics which determined its inscription on the List, the Committee may decide to delete the property from the List. Before any such action is taken, the World Heritage Centre will inform the State Party concerned. Any comments which the State Party may make will be brought to the attention of the Committee;
  • when the information available is not sufficient to enable the Committee to take one of the measures described above, the Committee may decide that the World Heritage Centre be authorized to take the necessary action to ascertain, in consultation with the State Party concerned, the present condition of the property, the dangers to the property and the feasibility of adequately restoring the property, and to report to the Committee on the results of its action; such measures may include the sending of a fact-finding or the consultation of specialists. In case an emergency action is required, the Committee may authorize its financing from the World Heritage Fund through an emergency assistance request.

To facilitate the work of the World Heritage Committee, a standard format is used for all SOC reports presented for examination by the Committee, with the following headings:

  • Name of the property, of the State Party and identification number
  • Year of inscription on the World Heritage List
  • Inscription criteria
  • Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger
  • Previous Committee Decisions
  • International Assistance
  • UNESCO Extra budgetary Funds
  • Previous monitoring missions
  • Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports
  • Illustrative material
  • Current conservation issues
  • Analysis and Conclusions by the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies
  • Draft Decision for adoption by the Committee

Don’t confuse Reactive monitoring with the Periodic Reporting exercise

World Heritage properties are also reported on through the Periodic reporting exercise. Indeed, the States Parties are requested to submit reports to the UNESCO General Conference through the World Heritage Committee on the legislative and administrative provisions they have adopted and other actions which they have taken for the application of the Convention, including the state of conservation of the World Heritage properties located on their territories (Article 29 of the Convention and Paragraph 199 of the Operational Guidelines).

The Periodic reporting serves four main purposes:

  • to provide an assessment of the application of the World Heritage Convention by the State Party;
  • to provide an assessment as to whether the Outstanding Universal Value of the properties inscribed on the World Heritage List is being maintained over time;
  • to provide up-dated information about the World Heritage properties to record the changing circumstances and state of conservation of the properties;
  • to provide a mechanism for regional co-operation and exchange of information and experiences between States Parties concerning the implementation of the Convention and World Heritage conservation.

To the difference of the reactive monitoring, the Periodic reporting is a States Parties-driven exercise and takes place only every 6 years.

The data contained in the online Information System on the state of conservation are only based on the reactive monitoring process.

Why are some properties examined by the Bureau of the World Heritage Committee?

The World Heritage Committee is composed of 21 members and meets at least once a year (June/July).  It establishes its own Bureau, which meets during the sessions of the Committee as frequently as deemed necessary.  

The Bureau is composed of the Chairperson of the World Heritage Committee, the Rapporteur of the Committee as well as 5 Vice-Chairpersons elected amongst the States Parties members of the Committee. 

Since the early years of the World Heritage Convention (1979) until 2002, the Bureau of the World Heritage Committee used to meet twice a year, once in June/July and a second time immediately preceding the Committee's regular session, in line with the 1999 Operational Guidelines, and had a substantial role in the coordination of the work of the Committee to the extent of examining all the reports on the state of conservation of World Heritage properties and taking decisions of various natures:

  • Directly request the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies to liaise with the State Party concerned in order to address the most urgent threats and implement the necessary mitigation/corrective measures; without transferring its examination to the World Heritage Committee;
  • Recommend the examination of the reports by the World Heritage Committee at its forthcoming session, and formulate a proposal for the required action, for adoption by the Committee;
  • Take note of the report and, in case of substantive progress, do not ask for any further reporting.

However, in 2002, although the prime objective of the Bureau was to take pressure off the World Heritage Committee sessions by preparing its work, it appeared that the responsibility of the Bureau (to simplify the work of the Committee by undertaking detailed preparatory work) was not always being met as identical content was often examined by the Bureau and then the Committee and discussed at length.  It was felt that the valuable time of Bureau and Committee members as well as Advisory Bodies was not utilised effectively, as presentations are repeated up to three times over the course of an annual cycle of the statutory meetings (item 15 of the agenda of the 26th session of the World Heritage Committee, Budapest, 2002).

Therefore, as from 2003, the role of the Bureau remained more limited and the latter could only meet during the sessions of the Committee, as frequently as deemed necessary (Rules of procedures of the World Heritage Committee, 2013, Article 12).  Since then, the SOC reports prepared by the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies are only examined by the World Heritage Committee. 

This explains why for most of the SOC reports of the 1979-2002 period, the Information System presents both the recommendations of the Bureau and the subsequent decisions of the World Heritage Committee.