Katharina Conradin and Thomas Hammer, University of Bern, Centre for Development and Environment
Today, more than 1000 World Heritage (WH) sites are inscribed on UNESCO’s list, 228 of which are natural and mixed heritage sites. Once focused primarily on conservation, World Natural Heritage (WNH) sites are increasingly seen as promoters of sustainable regional development. Sustainability-oriented regions, it is assumed, are safeguards for conservation and positively influence local conservation goals. Within UNESCO, discussions regarding the integration of sustainable development in official policies have recently gained momentum. In this article, we investigate the extent to which WNH sites trigger sustainability-oriented approaches in surrounding regions, and how such approaches in turn influence the WNH site and its protection. The results of the study are on the one hand based on a global survey with more than 60% of the WNH sites listed in 2011, and on the other hand on a complementary literature research. Furthermore, we analyze the policy framework necessary to support WNH sites in this endeavor. We conclude that a regional approach to WNH management is necessary to ensure that WNH sites support sustainable regional development effectively, but that the core focus of WNH status must remain environmental conservation.