• Natural World Heritage sites are globally recognised as the most significant protected areas on Earth.
• These sites provide life-supporting benefits to millions of people – 90% of sites provide jobs, two-thirds are crucial sources of water and about half help prevent natural disasters such as floods or landslides.
• Natural World Heritage sites are under increasing pressure from climate change, infrastructure development, mining, poaching and other threats.
• To protect sites from threats, investment in their protection and management is urgently needed. Closely monitoring the status of sites, World Heritage-specific biodiversity targets, and adopting IUCN Green List standards for site management can also help.
• These sites are a litmus test for our ability as a conservation community to protect biodiversity and pass on nature’s treasures to the next generation.
Natural World Heritage sites provide crucial habitats to many iconic species, as well as protect rare ecological processes and stunning landscapes. They also contribute to economies, climate stability and human well-being.
Two-thirds of natural sites on the World Heritage List are crucial sources of water, and about half help prevent natural disasters such as floods or landslides. Over 90% of listed natural sites create jobs and provide income from tourism and recreation. Forests found in World Heritage sites across the tropical regions store an estimated 5.7 billion tons of carbon – higher forest biomass carbon density on average than the remaining protected area network.
Natural World Heritage sites have high international visibility and provide insight into conservation successes and challenges. Through the World Heritage Convention, they have the power to mobilise action where it is most needed, and often pioneer management solutions which contribute to sustainable development.
The success of the conservation of World Heritage can act as a litmus test of the effectiveness of protected areas globally, and of our ability to protect nature overall.
Many natural World Heritage sites demonstrate that conservation works when efforts are sustained. For instance, Comoé National Park in Côte d’Ivoire came off the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2017 thanks to international support and joint action on the ground, which resulted in species populations rising, including chimpanzees and elephants that were thought to have disappeared from the park.