World Heritage Convention

The “Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage”, which UNESCO adopted on 16 November 1972, now has 190 States Parties, making it the most important international protective instrument for preserving cultural and natural heritage sites. By ratifying this treaty under international law the States pledge to protect their sites as the heritage of mankind as a whole and to preserve them for future generations. The Federal Republic of Germany joined the Convention in 1976, and in 1978 Aachen Cathedral became the first German inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
So what precisely makes sites such as Aachen Cathedral, the Taj Mahal (inscribed in 1983) and the Serengeti National Park (inscribed in 1981) stand out? Criteria for recognition for UNESCO World Heritage status include the site’s outstanding universal value, OUV for short, and a management plan which sets out the measures for its conservation. The objectives in the management plan to secure the protection, care, usage and development of the World Heritage site are described as the principles for planning and actions.

Inscription criteria

Besides the criteria of “authenticity”, or of historical genuineness, and “integrity”, or of being in an intact state, a potential World Heritage site must also demonstrate at least one out of a total of ten set criteria for the assessment of the OUV.
“Nominated properties shall therefore […]:

[i] ... represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;

[ii] ... exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town planning or landscape design; 

[iii] ... bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or has disappeared; 

[iv] ... be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history; 

[v] ... be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change; 

[vi] ... be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with the artistic or literary works of outstanding universal significance (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria); 

[vii]...contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance; 

[viii]... be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of land forms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features; 

[ix]... be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals; 

[[x] …contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.” See also criteria for inscription

The global strategy

The UNESCO World Heritage List now comprises a total of 1092 natural and cultural sites worldwide, and 44 sites are inscribed in Germany alone. There is a marked preponderance of cultural heritage inscriptions from Western nations and UNESCO has been attempting to counter this since 1994, through a global strategy intended to ensure the representativeness and credibility of a global list. One measure within this strategy is the introduction of a tentative list – a national proposal list, which sets out the potential nominations from the individual nations for the coming years. There is also encouragement for nominations from categories and regions which have so far been under-represented on the World Heritage List. This affects, among other things, cultural landscapes and testimonies to industrial heritage.
You can find out more from here.