About the conference idea

The year 2022 sees the 50th anniversary of the adoption by the UNESCO General Conference of the Convention concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Over the course of that half-century, this project has proven to be the greatest global success of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The countries of Europe were among the first to ratify the convention, and 3 of the first 12 assets inscribed on the UNESCO list in 1978 were in Europe, one of them being Kraków. Today, of the more than 1,100 world heritage assets it protects, almost 40 per cent are European. This means that hundreds of Europe’s most precious cultural assets have been recognized as global heritage, and nearly 1,000 more are on their countries’ tentative lists. This reflects the extensive scale of European countries’ active participation in the World Heritage system, and has ensured that Europe’s most valuable heritage has the status of UNESCO World Heritage.

But the importance of the UNESCO World Heritage movement extends far beyond the monuments and sites inscribed on the list. One notable achievement of the convention is its reach: it has been adopted by more states than are members of the UN. From the perspective of protection of all heritage, what is greatest significance is improving methods for analysis and forms of protection of World Heritage assets, and disseminating these best practices as broadly as possible. This applies to heritage value assessments, authenticity and integrity analyses, and many solutions employed in heritage management, such as risk assessments, monitoring, and cooperation with stakeholders. The World Heritage standard for such measures is implemented in the protection of other monuments and sites, since the specialists who deal with these issues are active in many countries, and transpose these solutions into national heritage protection systems. The UNESCO World Heritage movement has become an important factor in the development of world conservation theory and practice.

The UNESCO World Heritage List also has a major role to play in propagating the idea of heritage protection. The UNESCO list is an extremely widely recognized brand. Heritage and its protection is perceived as a source of pride, an important facet in identity, and a considerable economic contributor. Monuments and sites inscribed on the list are tourist destinations for millions. All this means that heritage protection is now a standard element in the executive strategies of both central governments and local authorities.

The successes and significance of the UNESCO World Heritage programme are such that the movement’s future is of considerable significance. There is now a need for holistic reflection in order to recapitulate its achievements, assess its present state, and formulate prognoses and tasks for the future. Of no less importance is the issue of transposing these experiences into other areas of heritage protection.

Revisiting Europe’s experiences to date and reflecting more broadly may be productive for the further development and improvement of the World Heritage system.