The World Heritage Convention

The World Heritage convention is rooted in the belief that certain special places are so important that they form part of humanity’s birth right, and countries are expected to contribute to the protection and conservation of these exceptional properties in order to make them accessible to present and future generations.” Cameron C, Rossler, M (2013) Many voices, One Vision: The Early Years of the World Heritage Convention, Farnham: Ashgate.

On 16 November 2022, the World Heritage Convention marks its 50th anniversary. World Heritage areas represent the most exceptional expressions of our humanity and treasures of our planet.

Through the 1972 Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, countries around the world vowed to safeguard the places of outstanding universal value through local, national, regional and international actions. There are 1,154 natural and cultural heritage sites in over 160 countries.

Queensland currently has five World Heritage areas – more than any other state or territory in Australia. Queensland’s World Heritage family includes K’gari, the Great Barrier Reef, the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia (shared with New South Wales), the Australian Fossil Mammal Sites – Riversleigh section, and the Wet Tropics of Queensland.

The Queensland Government is committed to progressing new World Heritage nominations in partnership with First Nations people. Our commitment to best practice First Nations engagement is supported by the Gurra Gurra Framework which is a foundational tool to reframe our relationships with First Nations people and share everyday decision-making.

History of the World Heritage Convention

In 1972, UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) adopted the World Heritage Convention, an international treaty that aims to promote cooperation among nations to identify, protect and preserve heritage that is of such outstanding value that its conservation is important for current and future generations.

Places that are inscribed on the World Heritage List are internationally recognised as representing the most outstanding of the world’s natural and cultural heritage.

Australia was one of the first countries to ratify the Convention in 1974 and currently has 20 sites inscribed on the World Heritage List. See Queensland’s World Heritage areas for more information.

In recent years, there has been greater recognition of the crucial role of First Nations people in the conservation of natural and cultural heritage. The World Heritage Operational Guidelines were updated in 2019 to include reference to the UNESCO policy on engaging with First Nations peoples. The policy highlights that "World Heritage sites are often located within land managed by First Nations peoples whose land use, knowledge, cultural and spiritual values and practices are related to heritage". The policy also embraces the right of First Nations peoples to their traditional lands, territories and resources—and recognises the need for World Heritage conservation and protection activities to be achieved in partnership with First Nations peoples.

Recent World Heritage listings such as the Pimachiowin Aki in Canada and Australia’s Budj Bim in Victoria demonstrate how a rights-based approach to listing and managing World Heritage works in practice.

World Heritage emblem

World Heritage emblem

The World Heritage emblem identifies the Outstanding Universal Value of properties inscribed on the World Heritage List. Designed by Belgian artist Michel Olyff, the emblem was adopted by the World Heritage Committee in 1978 and symbolises the interdependence of cultural and natural properties. The central square of the emblem is a form representing humans and the circle represents nature—the two being intimately linked.

The emblem visually represents a network of over 1,000 universally outstanding places in the world, of which Australia has 20 (five of them located wholly or partially in Queensland). The common feature of all properties inscribed on the World Heritage List is that they meet the requirements for Outstanding Universal Value. Outstanding Universal Value is the central idea of the World Heritage Convention. World Heritage properties are recognised internationally as having special significance which needs to be protected for future generations to enjoy.