World Heritage is an international covenant system supported by the United Nations and headed and operated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The goal of the program is to preserve natural or cultural sites which possess outstanding universal value. A successful application to World Heritage is not simply an honor or a boon for tourism; it is an earnest commitment to heritage protection.

A site must possess “outstanding universal value” of a cultural or natural type before it can be nominated to become a World Heritage. The site can be formally registered only after committee investigation and consideration, as well as other procedures. As of 2009, there were 890 World Heritage sites. Of these, 659 were cultural heritage sites (for example, China’s Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes and Venice, Italy), 176 were natural heritage sites (for example, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and South China’s Karst region), and 25 were mixed cultural and natural heritage sites (for example, China’s Tai Mountain).

The World Heritage Convention was formulated by UNESCO, and a World Heritage committee elected by member countries sees to the implementation of related principles and duties. However, the task of protecting world heritages is extremely formidable and expenditures are enormous, and World Heritage often finds itself at odds with projects for economic and industrial/commercial development. Consequently, the program must depend on the concentrated efforts of countries housing World Heritage sites as well as all of humankind for its success.