An online consultation concerning the updating of the “Policy Document on the Impacts of Climate Change on World Heritage properties” took place from 30 December 2019 to 31 January 2020. This consultation is now closed but the questionnaire is available below:
A summary of the results of this online consultation is available below:
Following this consultation and a review of the available literature on the subject, an international Technical Advisory Group of experts, established on this occasion, met four times online to provide guidance and make proposals throughout the updating process. The draft updated Policy Document (available here) has been examined and endorsed by the World Heritage Committee at its extended 44th session (16-31 July 2021), which also decided to transmit it for review and adoption at the 23rd session of the General Assembly of States Parties to the World Heritage Convention in November 2021
(the relevant Documents WHC/21/23.GA/11 and WHC/21/23.GA/INF.11, presented to the General Assembly, can be viewed here)
An information meeting on the draft updated Policy Document took place online on 18 June 2021, and can be viewed here.
The updating of this Policy Document benefits from funding
by The Netherlands Funds-in-Trust (NFiT)
World Heritage properties are affected by the impacts of climate change at present and in the future. Their continued preservation requires understanding these impacts to their Outstanding Universal Value and responding to them effectively.
World Heritage properties also harbour options for society to mitigate and adapt to climate change through the ecosystem benefits, such as water and climate regulation, that they provide and the carbon that is stored in World Heritage forest sites. Cultural heritage, on the other hand, can convey traditional knowledge that builds resilience for change to come and leads us to a more sustainable future.
World Heritage properties serve as climate change observatories to gather and share information on applied and tested monitoring, mitigation and adaptation practices. The global network of World Heritage also helps raise awareness on the impacts of climate change on human societies and cultural diversity, biodiversity and ecosystem services, and the world’s natural and cultural heritage.
The issue of the impacts of climate change on World Heritage natural and cultural properties was brought to the attention of the World Heritage Committee in 2005 by a group of concerned organisations and individuals.
The Committee requested (Decision 29 COM 7B.a) the World Heritage Centre, in collaboration with the Convention’s Advisory Bodies, interested States Parties and the petitioners, to convene a broad working group of experts to review the nature and scale of the risks arising from climate change and prepare a strategy and report for dealing with the issue. In taking this decision the Committee noted ‘… that the impacts of climate change are affecting many and are likely to affect many more World Heritage properties, both natural and cultural, in the years to come’.
The group of experts prepared a report on “Predicting and Managing the Effects of climate change on World Heritage’, as well as a ‘Strategy to Assist States Parties to the Convention to Implement Appropriate Management Responses”. The Committee reviewed and endorsed these two documents at its 30th session (Vilnius, 2006) (Decision 30 COM 7.1), and requested all States Parties to implement the strategy so as to protect the outstanding universal values, integrity and authenticity of the World Heritage properties from the adverse impacts of climate change.
The Committee further requested the World Heritage Centre to develop, through a consultative process, a draft policy document on the impacts of climate change on World Heritage properties to be presented at the 31st session, and discussed subsequently at the General Assembly of States Parties in 2007.
Accordingly, a Working Group meeting, comprising several experts and representatives of convention secretariats, was convened by the World Heritage Centre at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on 5-6 February 2007. The draft ‘Policy Document on the Impacts of Climate Change on World Heritage Properties’ was prepared following this meeting and reviewed by various experts, practitioners, as well as representatives of international organizations and the civil society. This draft Policy Document was discussed at the 31st session of the World Heritage Committee (Christchurch, New Zealand, 2007).
The views expressed at the Committee were incorporated, and the revised Policy Document was presented to the General Assembly of States Parties at its 16th session (UNESCO, 2007). The General Assembly adopted the Policy Document and strongly recommended its use by all concerned. It also encouraged UNESCO and the Advisory Bodies to disseminate widely the Policy Document, the Report and the Strategy, including to the general public, and to promote their application.
At its 32nd session (Quebec City, 2008), the World Heritage Committee adopted (see Decision 32 COM 7A.32) criteria for assessing properties, which are most threatened by climate change for inclusion on the List of World Heritage in Danger (as requested in Decision 31 COM 7.1), noting that the emphasis of the corrective measures to be recommended should be on "adaptation" rather than on "mitigation", and also approved amendments to Paragraphs 179 (b) (vi), 180 (b) (v) and 181 of the Operational Guidelines.
Since then, climate change has been a recurring conservation issue affecting the World Heritage properties around the world. In its Decision 39 COM 7 taken at its 39th session (Bonn, 2015), the World Heritage Committee acknowledged that World Heritage properties are increasingly affected by climate change, and encouraged States Parties to participate in the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December 2015, with a view to achieving a universal climate agreement and mobilize global climate action on the ground. The Committee also recalled its Decision 31 COM 7.1, adopted at its 31st session (Christchurch, 2007) in which it adopted a “carbon neutral policy, in view of its application for all future sessions, to the extent feasible”.
Since the adoption of the Policy Document, numerous reports on the state of conservation of World Heritage properties located in all regions were presented to the World Heritage Committee in relation to climate change impacts (see http://whc.unesco.org/en/soc). Aware that knowledge related to adaptation and mitigation to climate change has drastically increased over the past 10 years, the World Heritage Committee requested the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies (Decision 40 COM 7) to periodically review and update the Policy Document, so as to make available the most current knowledge and technology on the subject to guide the decisions and actions of the World Heritage community.
The World Heritage Centre developed a project, with the objective to propose the updated Policy Document for consideration by the World Heritage Committee and to ensure its widespread communication and dissemination to all stakeholders concerned. The end purpose of this updated Policy Document is to provide States Parties with up-to-date climate-related knowledge, data and information services and policy advice that will better equip them towards the reinforced protection of the World Heritage properties and ensure their sustainability.
At its 42nd session (Manama, 2018), the World Heritage Centre presented a progress report on this project to the World Heritage Committee, which expressed its gratitude to the State Party of the Netherlands for its generous support to the updating of the Policy Document (Decision 42 COM 7, para.32).
At its 43rd session (Baku, 2019), the World Heritage Centre presented another progress report on this project to the World Heritage Committee, which noted with appreciation the initiatives already taken by the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies to advance work on updating the Policy Document and to conduct a widespread online consultation with States Parties, Advisory Bodies and civil society (Decision 43 COM 7.2).
The World Heritage Centre, with the assistance of the Advisory Bodies, identified two senior consultants to assist in this tasks and established an international Technical Advisory Group of experts in the fields of natural and cultural heritage, climate change, with a sound understanding of the processes of the Convention, with the main objectives to review a draft updated Policy Document and provide inputs. The Chairpersons of all six UNESCO Electoral Groups were consulted and invited to nominate two regional representatives and up to two observers to be part of this Technical Advisory Group. In addition to this fair representation of States Parties, this geographically and gender-balanced group also included representatives of the Advisory Bodies and the World Heritage Centre.
The Technical Advisory Group assisted in defining a clear roadmap on the lead up to the presentation of the updated Policy Document to the Committee, and met several times online to review the draft updated Policy Document prepared by the two experts, to address the potential different viewpoints or approaches and to provide further guidance (both during the meetings and in writing, as needed). The various online meetings took place on 27-29 April, 4 June, 15-17 July and 22 September 2020.
As part of the updating process, the World Heritage Centre also launched a wide online consultation of all stakeholders of the World Heritage Convention. This questionnaire was widely circulated to the World Heritage stakeholders, including States Parties, site managers, local communities, indigenous peoples, academics, NGOs, civil society, Advisory Bodies and the World Heritage Centre (also see https://whc.unesco.org/en/news/2074/). The aim of this consultation was to gather feedback and comments from key World Heritage stakeholders of the Convention on this crucial matter. They were indeed invited to share their views, expectations and best practice examples, and were also requested to flag the importance of several aspects for their possible inclusion into the updated Policy Document. Over 360 contributions were submitted (see above for further details).
On 31 July 2021, the extended 44th session on the World Heritage Committee (Fuzhou/online, 2021) concluded its work. During this session, the World Heritage Committee has endorsed the draft "Policy Document on Climate Action for World Heritage”, as presented in Annex 1 of Document WHC/21/44.COM/7C and requested the World Heritage Centre, in consultation with the Advisory Bodies, to revise it by incorporating views expressed and amendments submitted during the extended 44th session, and to consult Committee members, especially concerning the following points:
In this regard, the draft Policy Document has been shared with Committee members for their input by 15 September 2021. Following these final revisions, the draft Policy Document was transmitted for consideration at the 23rd session of the General Assembly of States Parties to the World Heritage Convention in November 2021, in accordance with Decision 44 COM 7C.
The Committee also requested the World Heritage Centre to convene a Panel of experts drawn from the ad hoc working group, the World Heritage Centre, the Advisory Bodies and other qualified experts in the field of climate science and heritage, to meet by March 2022.
The revised Policy Document incorporating all comments/amendments received was therefore presented for review by the General Assembly on 26 November 2021. Considering that the Policy Document needed to be reviewed in light of the technical national expertise from all 194 States Parties, the General Assembly did not wish to consider the Document itself and therefore did not adopt it.
Instead, the General Assembly took note of it, while establishing an open-ended Working Group with a mandate to develop a final version of the Policy Document for consideration at its 24th session in 2023.
The General Assembly, in its Resolution 23 GA 11, further recommended that the Panel of experts, requested by the Committee, address unresolved policy issues and report its findings to the open-ended Working Group.
UNESCO has been at the forefront of exploring and managing the impacts of climate change on World Heritage. In 2006, under the guidance of the World Heritage Committee, it prepared a report on Predicting and Managing the Effects of Climate Change on World Heritage (2007), followed by a compilation of Case Studies on Climate Change and World Heritage, and a Policy Document on the Impacts of Climate Change on World Heritage Properties in 2008. In May 2014, it published a practical guide to Climate Change Adaptation for Natural World Heritage Sites and continues to build the capacity of site managers to deal with climate change.
Climate Change and World Heritage
Report on predicting and managing the impacts of climate change on World Heritage and Strategy to assist States Parties to implement appropriate management responses
The World Heritage Review n°42, 74, 77 and 100 have focused on issues of climate change and resilience.
Reducing Disasters Risks at World Heritage Properties and World Heritage and Sustainable Development.
UNESCO builds capacities of States Parties and other stakeholders to manage climate change impacts on World Heritage effectively and sustainably. The main aim of these efforts is to increase the capacity of these properties to continue to convey their Outstanding Universal Value and support sustainable development.
Management of resilient World Heritage properties requires designing and implementing appropriate adaptation measures, complemented by activities that contribute to disaster risk management, climate change mitigation and sustainable development.
In 2014, UNESCO supported capacity building of World Heritage site managers in Latin America and Africa on climate change adaptation for natural World Heritage based on the methodological guide developed. Four natural sites (2 in India and 2 in Kenya) took part as pilot sites in the preparation of the guide. These activities received financial support from the Netherlands Funds-in-Trust, the Flanders Funds-in-Trust and the Government of Belgium.
UNESCO has also supported specific World Heritage sites on climate change adaptation and mitigation activities, including in Peru and Indonesia.
The General Assembly,
The World Heritage Committee,
The World Heritage Committee,
The World Heritage Committee,
Statutory matters related to Reactive Monitoring
Reactive Monitoring evaluation
Takes note with appreciation that the World Heritage Centre has launched an evaluation of the Reactive Monitoring process and thanks the State Party of Switzerland for its financial support to this activity;
Emergency situations resulting from natural disasters
Other conservation issues
Absent or unclear boundaries
Heritage Impact Assessments/Environmental Impact Assessments (HIAs/EIAs)
Illegal trade in endangered species and the cooperation with the CITES Convention
The World Heritage Committee,
The World Heritage Committee,
Other conservation issues
The World Heritage Committee,
1. Having examined Documents WHC-09/33.COM/7B and WHC-09/33.COM/7B.Add,
2. Recalling Decision 32 COM 7B.129, adopted at its 32nd session (Quebec City, 2008),
3. Takes note of the process being followed to consult State Parties to ensure the accuracy of the state of conservation reports during their preparation, as presented in the introduction of Document WHC-09/33.COM/7B and requests the World Heritage Centre to make every effort to ensure that States Parties' input is included in these reports before they are distributed;
4. Recognizes the efforts on the inclusion of references in the Working Documents on State of Conservation to the image gallery of the web-pages of the World Heritage Centre and encourages States Parties to provide the World Heritage Centre, whenever possible, with verified electronic illustrative material;
5. Considers that its request, in Decision 32 COM 7B.129, to add a link to illustrative material also aimed at providing background information on cases indicating the potential of visual impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of a property and to make visual impact simulations provided by States Parties available to Members of the Word Heritage Committee;
6. Encourages States Parties to provide electronic illustrations of proposed projects in their State of Conservation Reports and to make these available to the Members of the World Heritage Committee;
7. Acknowledging the increasing number of State of Conservation reports and that reviewing these is a key tool for ensuring the effective conservation and credibility of World Heritage properties,
8. Noting the results of the analytical document on trends provided with Circular Letter CL/WHC-09/03 and the in-depth discussion that took place at the 32nd session of the World Heritage Committee,
9. Also noting the increasing number of natural disasters affecting World Heritage properties, requests the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies to prepare a report on the progress made in the implementation of the Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction at World Heritage properties and submit it for the examination by the Committee at its 34th session in 2010,
10. Also considers it desirable to receive from the World Heritage Centre a methodological framework for the processes of:
a) Initiating the consideration of a property in the State of Conservation reports,
b) Requesting a State Party progress or state of conservation report within a defined timeframe, and
c) Evaluating desired State of Conservation Statements submitted by State Parties;
11. Requests the World Heritage Centre to:
a) Prepare, in cooperation with the Advisory Bodies, information on criteria, thresholds and processes applied for the initiation of State of Conservation reports and review of Desired State of Conservation statements for discussion at the 34th session of the World Heritage Committee in 2010;
b) Also prepare, in consultation with the Chairperson of the World Heritage Committee, a summary of the trends, changes and threats based on an analytical summary of the state of conservation of World Heritage properties over 5 years for discussion at the 34th session of the World Heritage Committee in 2010, with a view to make recommendations for prioritizing management efforts in the context of the Global Strategy;
12. Further requests the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies, when preparing state of conservation reports, to distinguish between issues that impact or have the potential to impact on a site's Outstanding Universal Value from issues that may impact values that are not recognized as being of Outstanding Universal Value;
13. Notes that all reactive monitoring missions proposed in the draft decisions on State of Conservation of properties on the World Heritage List and the List of World Heritage in Danger are currently suggested to be joint missions of the World Heritage Centre and at least one Advisory Body, and considers that this has the potential to increase the overall budgetary requirements for missions and human resources;
14. Requests the World Heritage Centre to introduce a section on proposed missions to the relevant State of Conservation reports which outlines the objectives of a proposed mission as well as the specific roles and tasks of all bodies involved;
15. Also notes the petition on the Role of Black Carbon in the endangering of World Heritage properties and encourages all States Parties to exchange information on existing national policies, regulations and opportunities for immediate voluntary action to control the generation of black carbon that can affect World Heritage properties;
16. Also requests the World Heritage Centre and Advisory Bodies to adopt a consistent approach to reporting on the impact of climate change on World Heritage properties and to ensure that future decisions in this respect are based on the Committee's Strategy to assist States Parties to implement appropriate management responses to climate change;
17. Further noting the profusion of terms used to describe the spatial and functional relationships among World Heritage properties, their buffer zones and the areas around these properties, requests the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies to develop a glossary of terms in this respect, as well as proposed revisions to the Operational Guidelines regarding buffer zones, taking into account the results of the Expert Meeting on this issue for consideration by the World Heritage Committee at its 34th session in 2010;
18. Also encourages all States Parties to fully implement paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines by informing the World Heritage Centre of restorations, constructions and other projects that may affect the Outstanding Universal Value of a property in their territory.Read more about the decision
The World Heritage Committee,
1. Having examined Document WHC-08/32.COM/7A,
2. Recalling Decisions 29 COM 7B.a, 30 COM 7.1 and 31 COM 7.1, adopted at its 29th (Durban, 2005), 30th (Vilnius, 2006) and 31st (Christchurch, 2007) sessions respectively,
3. Also recalling Resolution 16 GA 10, adopted by the General Assembly of States Parties to the World Heritage Convention at its 16th session (UNESCO, 2007),
4. Noting the real danger from climate change faced by many World Heritage properties,
5. Decides to adopt the criteria proposed for assessing properties which are most threatened by climate change for inclusion on the List of World Heritage in Danger, noting that the emphasis of the corrective measures to be recommended should be on "adaptation" rather than on "mitigation";
6. Approves the following amendments to the Operational Guidelines:
a) Amendment to Paragraph 179 (b) (vi):
threatening impacts of climatic, geological or other environmental factors. gradual changes due to geological, climatic or other environmental factors.
b) New Paragraph : Paragraph 180 (b)(v):
threatening impacts of climatic, geological or other environmental factors.
c) Amendment to Paragraph 181:
In addition, the factor or factors which are threatening threats and/or their deleterious impacts on the integrity of the property must be those which are amenable to correction by human action. In the case of cultural properties, both natural factors and man-made factors may be threatening, while in the case of natural properties, most threats will be man-made and only very rarely a natural factor (such as an epidemic disease) will threaten the integrity of the property. In some cases, the factor or factors which are threatening threats and/or their deleterious impacts on the integrity of the property may be corrected by administrative or legislative action, such as the cancelling of a major public works project or the improvement of legal status.Read more about the decision
The General Assembly,
The World Heritage Committee,
1. Having examined Document WHC-06/30.COM/7.1,
2. Recalling Decision 29 COM 7B.a adopted at its 29th session (Durban, 2005),
3. Also recalling the submission in 2005 of four petitions by civil society and non-governmental organizations on the impacts of Climate Change on World Heritage properties, complemented by an additional petition in February 2006,
4. Further recalling paragraph 44 of the Operational Guidelines,
5. Thanks the Government of the United Kingdom for having funded the meeting of experts, which took place on the 16th and 17th of March 2006 at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, and also thanks the United Nations Foundation for its support, as well as all the experts who contributed to the meeting;
6. Endorses the "Strategy to assist States Parties to implement appropriate management responses" described in Document WHC-06/30.COM/7.1, and requests the Director of the World Heritage Centre to lead the implementation of the "Global level actions" described in the Strategy through extrabudgetary funding and also takes note of the report on "Predicting and managing the impacts of Climate Change on World Heritage";
7. Encourages UNESCO, including the World Heritage Centre, and the Advisory Bodies to disseminate widely this strategy, the report, and any other related publications through appropriate means to the World Heritage community and the broader public;
8. Requests States Parties and all partners concerned to implement this strategy to protect the Outstanding Universal Value, integrity and authenticity of World Heritage sites from the adverse effects of Climate Change, to the extent possible and within the available resources, recognizing that there are other international instruments for coordinating the response to this challenge;
9. Invites States Parties, the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies to build on existing Conventions and programmes listed in Annex 4 of Document WHC-06/30.COM/7.1, in accordance with their mandates and as appropriate, in their implementation of Climate Change related activities;
10. Also requests States Parties, the World Heritage Centre, and the Advisory Bodies to seek ways to integrate, to the extent possible and within the available resources, this strategy into all the relevant processes of the World Heritage Convention including: nominations, reactive monitoring, periodic reporting, international assistance, capacity building, other training programmes, as well as with the "Strategy for reducing risks from disasters at World Heritage properties" (WHC-06/30.COM/7.2);
11. Strongly encourages the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies in collaboration with States Parties and other relevant partners to develop proposals for the implementation of pilot projects at specific World Heritage properties especially in developing countries, with a balance between natural and cultural properties as well as appropriate regional proposals, with the objective of developing best practices for implementing this Strategy including preventive actions, corrective actions and sharing knowledge, and recommends to the international donor community to support the implementation of such pilot projects;
12. Further requests the States Parties and the World Heritage Centre to work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), with the objective of including a specific chapter on World Heritage in future IPCC assessment reports;
13. Requests the World Heritage Centre to prepare a policy document on the impacts of climate change on World Heritage properties involving consultations with relevant climate change experts and practitioners of heritage conservation and management, appropriate international organizations and civil society, to be discussed at the General Assembly of States Parties in 2007. A draft of the document should be presented to the 31st session in 2007 for comments.
This draft should include considerations on:
a) Synergies between conventions on this issue,
b) Identification of future research needs in this area,
c) Legal questions on the role of the World Heritage Convention with regard to suitable responses to Climate Change,
d) Linkages to other UN and international bodies dealing with the issues of climate change,
e) Alternative mechanisms, other than the List of World Heritage in Danger, to address concerns of international implication, such as climatic change ;
14. Considers that the decisions to include properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger because of threats resulting from climate change are to be made by the World Heritage Committee, on a case-by-case basis, in consultation and cooperation with States Parties, taking into account the input from Advisory Bodies and NGOs, and consistent with the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention.Read more about the decision
The World Heritage Committee,
1. Having examined Document WHC-05/29.COM/7B.Rev and the Draft Decision 29 COM 7B.a.Rev,
2. Recognizing the work being undertaken within the framework of the UN Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), and the need for a proper coordination of such work with the activities under the Convention,
3. Takes note of the four petitions seeking to have Sagarmatha National Park (Nepal), Huascaran National Park (Peru), the Great Barrier Reef (Australia) and the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (Belize) included on the List of World Heritage in Danger;
4. Appreciates the genuine concerns raised by the various organizations and individuals supporting these petitions relating to threats to natural World Heritage properties that are or may be the result of climate change;
5. Further notes that the impacts of climate change are affecting many and are likely to affect many more World Heritage properties, both natural and cultural in the years to come;
6. Encourages all States Parties to seriously consider the potential impacts of climate change within their management planning, in particular with monitoring, and risk preparedness strategies, and to take early action in response to these potential impacts;
7. Requests the World Heritage Centre, in collaboration with the Advisory Bodies, interested States Parties and petitioners, to establish a broad working group of experts to: a) review the nature and scale of the risks posed to World Heritage properties arising specifically from climate change; and b) jointly develop a strategy to assist States Parties to implement appropriate management responses;
8. Welcomes the offer by the State Party of the United Kingdom to host a meeting of such working group of experts;
9. Requests that the working group of experts, in consultation with the World Heritage Centre, the Advisory Bodies and other relevant UN bodies, prepare a joint report on “Predicting and managing the effects of climate change on World Heritage”, to be examined by the Committee at its 30th session (Vilnius, 2006);
10. Strongly encourages States Parties and the Advisory Bodies to use the network of World Heritage properties to highlight the threats posed by climate change to natural and cultural heritage, start identifying the properties under most serious threats, and also use the network to demonstrate management actions that need to be taken to meet such threats, both within the properties and in their wider context;
11. Also encourages UNESCO to do its utmost to ensure that the results about climate change affecting World Heritage properties reach the public at large, in order to mobilize political support for activities against climate change and to safeguard in this way the livelihood of the poorest people of our planet.Read more about the decision