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World Heritage and Biodiversity

Conservation of ecosystem integrity and biodiversity

Biological diversity underpins ecosystem functioning and the provision of ecosystem services essential for human well-being. World Heritage properties are the most outstanding places on the planet and constitute a significant subset of the protected area system, critical for conservation of ecosystem integrity and biodiversity. The World Heritage Convention ensures global commitment for the conservation of these exceptional places, while respecting their cultural and local connections.

The World Heritage Convention recognises some World Heritage properties specifically for their outstanding biodiversity values, protecting many of the most important ecosystems and areas of high biodiversity on the planet, as follows:

being “outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals”
or containing “the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has developed global thematic studies on terrestrial biodiversity and marine natural heritage to identify gaps on the World Heritage List and potential candidate sites.

Although some sites are recognised specifically for their biodiversity values, there are significant opportunities for reinforcing biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in all World Heritage properties. For example, many cultural landscapes safeguard important biodiversity values often based on inter-linkages between cultural and biological diversity. The biocultural heritage has been promoted by UNESCO and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD) through their Joint Programme on Biological and Cultural Diversity since 2010.

The Rapid Response Facility (RRF), operated by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, the United Nations Foundation and Fauna & Flora International, have been established to provide timely resources to address threats and emergencies affecting World Heritage properties and sites with high biodiversity values.

UNESCO Biodiversity Initiative has been developed to ensure that UNESCO contributes to the implementation of the UN Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, to increase Member States’ awareness of biodiversity and ecosystem services, to crystallize UNESCO’s work in education, science and culture for the holistic preservation of biodiversity and to strengthen the biodiversity science-policy interface.

Biodiversity and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

The UNESCO World Heritage Centre cooperates closely with the biodiversity related Conventions (World Heritage Convention, Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Ramsar Convention, Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), International Whaling Commission (IWC)), individually and also through the mechanism of the Biodiversity Liaison Group (BLG). The BLG meets regularly to explore opportunities for synergistic activities and increased coordination, and to exchange information, and will play a key role in support of the negotiations for the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. 

Nearly two-thirds of the ocean lies beyond the jurisdiction of nations, commonly called the High Seas. Marine areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) cover half of our planet and contain natural wonders. Cognizant of the growing threats to biodiversity in ABNJ, States at the United Nations are negotiating a treaty to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of this vast global commons, and the World Heritage Marine Programme has been exploring technical modalities for World Heritage in High Seas.

Strategic Plan for Biodiversity

and the Aichi Targets

The Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity which took place in Japan in October 2010, adopted the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and the Aichi Targets as the basis for halting and eventually reversing the loss of biodiversity of the planet. The United Nations General Assembly at its 65th session in 2011 declared 2011–2020 the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity, with a view to contributing to the implementation of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020 (Resolution 65/161).

A National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) is a policy instrument required under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to guide work on the Aichi Targets and enhance cooperation among all the biodiversity-related conventions. Mindful of the World Heritage Convention’s importance in meeting the global biodiversity targets, the World Heritage Committee at its 37th session (Phnom Penh, 2013) requested States Parties to the World Heritage Convention to ensure that their National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans fully take into account the importance of World Heritage properties to achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Targets (Decision 37 COM 5A). Integrating World Heritage into the NBSAPs helps recognise the World Heritage Convention’s contributions to conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, strengthen national implementation of the Convention while also contributing to the objectives of the CBD.

Suggested steps for integrating the biodiversity-related convention, including the World Heritage Convention, into the NBSAPs are provided in this UNEP publication.

With support of the Netherlands Funds-in-Trust (NFiT), UNESCO World Heritage Centre has cooperated with its global partners in development of joint resources and guidance on synergies, including through NBSAPs, to enhance national-level cooperation and synergies across the biodiversity-related conventions.



See Also

Synergies to protect World Heritage
World Heritage Marine Programme
Biodiversity Conservation in Regions of Armed Conflict
Cultural Landscapes
Rapid Response Facility
UNESCO-SCBD Joint Programme on Biological and Cultural Diversity
UNESCO Biodiversity Initiative
Man and the Biosphere programme
Education for Sustainable Development - Biodiversity