Having been identified as a cross-cutting theme for global biodiversity conservation initiatives at the Fifth World Parks Congress in Durban, South Africa (2003) the World Heritage Convention, one of the five international conventions addressing biodiversity needs, serves as an instrumental action-orientated mechanism for the protection of the world's most valuable natural resources and heritage. The Convention's work relates directly to the Convention on Biological Diversity, and provides a valuable opportunity to galvanise national and international attention regarding biodiversity conservation priorities, thus contributing to achieving its 2010 biodiversity target.
Out of a total 812 World Heritage sites, 160 have been inscribed for natural heritage values (24 are mixed natural and cultural) and of these 115 sites were inscribed specifically for their value of "in-situ conservation of biological diversity". As such, the World Heritage Convention currently protects some of the most important ecosystems and areas of high biodiversity worldwide. The theme of the World Biodiversity Day in 2006 is drylands. Increasing the representation of key dryland habitats having been identified as a priority in World Heritage Convention's Global Strategy objectives in 1999, the World Heritage Committee is working towards inscribing more of these sites worldwide. Several examples of existing World Heritage sites with a drylands component include: Purnulu National Park, Australia; Lake Turkana National Parks, Kenya; Arabian Oryx Sanctuary, Oman; and Grand Canyon National Park, USA.
After recognising the World Heritage Convention as the mechanism of choice for carrying out the global biodiversity conservation mandate, the United Nations Foundation (UNF) has played a fundamental role in promoting the Convention's natural heritage agenda. In the "pursuit of long-term conservation of biodiversity and sustainable development", and in line with the CBD priorities, the World Heritage Centre values an ecosystem approach to environmental conservation and, thanks to UNF impetus and the help of partner organizations, actively pursues serial and transboundary nominations and site extensions in order to better ensure conservation of biodiversity values of the sites listed.
Furthermore, collaboration between the World Heritage Centre and other UN and UNESCO programmes and international organizations has greatly contributed to World Heritage activities and biodiversity requirements as a whole. The recent creation of an in-house biodiversity liaison group, which assembles representatives of all parts of UNESCO with an interest and a mandate to conserve biodiversity, has set the foundation for more systematic cooperation between UNESCO sectors. Of particular importance is the fact that some 74 Biosphere Reserves are at the same time World Heritage sites, which ultimately facilitates better management of sites and the promotion of sustainable livelihoods linked to science and development.
In short, with its global, integrative and collaborative approach, the World Heritage Convention is well situated to confront the biodiversity conservation challenge, and to encourage the collective international action that effective protection efforts require.