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Who makes decisions about the World Heritage?

Who make decisions about the World Heritage? What are the obligations that come with World Heritage status, and who monitors them? In truth, the obligations fall to many people. Good management of the World Heritage requires good team work.

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Photo: Wolverine by Nils Olav Talgøy Photo: Encounter with the forces of nature av Gry Mørk

Unesco sits on top

All World Heritage work is governed and led by Unesco, which stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Unesco’s objective is to build peace and security through international cooperation in these fields. The organisation was formed in 1945, and Norway became a member in 1946. The preamble to Unesco’s Constitution reads: ‘Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.’ Peace is at the heart of all work undertaken by Unesco and the World Heritage Committee.

The World Heritage Committee is the ultimate decision-making body in all matters related to the World Heritage Convention. The committee is made up of elected representatives from 21 countries. They meet every year to discuss World Heritage applications. They also determine if action is needed vis-a-vis countries that fail to look after their World Heritage properties.

The World Heritage Centre in Paris co-ordinates the day-to-day management of all matters related to World Heritage. The centre has a variety of tasks:

  • Prepare and organise the meetings of the World Heritage Committee. It is the committee that decides which sites/monuments should be inscribed on the World Heritage List. The committee has 21 members and meets once a year. If requested by two thirds of the members, extraordinary meetings can also be held.
  • Advise the states parties about new nominations and monitoring of their own World Heritage properties.
  • Facilitate international assistance for properties that need support from the World Heritage Fund.
  • Monitor the states parties’ work to report on the status of their World Heritage properties. Properties need to submit a report every six years.
  • Take emergency measures if a World Heritage site is threatened.
  • Organise courses and conferences to increase World Heritage competencies.
  • Develop teaching material to help young people understand the value of the world heritage.
  • Disseminate information about World Heritage.

Unesco’s efforts to secure and preserve the world’s outstanding cultural and natural heritage values make up only one part of their work. For more information about Unesco, see en.unesco.org and unesco.no

The responsibility of the state party

Nations that ratify the World Heritage Convention undertake to identify, document and nominate potential World Heritage sites for the World Heritage List. It is the state party that applies for inscription of a site, while the World Heritage Committee decides if it fulfils the criteria for outstanding universal value.

The basic principle of the World Heritage Convention is that nations commit to protecting their part of the World Heritage. At the same time, the international community has a duty of collaboration to preserve a heritage that belongs to us all. Properties inscribed on the list can receive funding from the World Heritage Fund. World Heritage status does not entail a new form of protection. All efforts to protect and manage the World Heritage must comply with national frameworks and legislation.

Every six years, Unesco receives a report on the status of each of the World Heritage properties. The report highlights any need for adjustments to site management practices. If developments are deemed to be detrimental, the site may be included on the ‘List of World Heritage in Danger’. If values have been severely harmed or diminished, the site may be removed from the World Heritage List.

The responsibility of ministries and government agencies

In Norway, the Ministry of Climate and Environment has the ultimate responsibility for co-ordinating and monitoring work associated with World Heritage status. The Ministry’s Department for Cultural Environment is the national contact point for the Convention. A number of other ministries are responsible for their own sector interests in relation to the World Heritage status, e.g. transport, culture, trade, industry and fisheries, energy, local government and modernisation, education and research, agriculture and food, justice and public security.

Several white papers have revealed that the political leadership holds high ambitions for Norwegian World Heritage: ‘Norwegian Word Heritage sites should be developed as beacons of best practice as regards management of the natural and cultural heritage.’ For Norway to fulfil these ambitions, comprehensive teamwork is needed between the ministries that share responsibility for the World Heritage. The Directorate for Cultural Heritage and the Norwegian Environment Agency are responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Convention in their respective fields.

The responsibility of the County Governor and the county councils

County Governors are government representatives on county councils. They are tasked with monitoring local implementation of decisions, objectives and guidelines introduced by the Norwegian parliament and central government. The county councils are responsible for regional management and development. Their responsibilities include upper secondary education, business development, regional transport, and management of the region’s culture, heritage and cultural environments. They have first-line responsibility for the cultural heritage. This means that they must comment on all plans that could impact on the World Heritage, and oppose any initiatives that might conflict with World Heritage values.

When the West Norwegian Fjords were awarded World Heritage status, the County Governors and the county councils signed a ‘Declaration of Intent’, as did the local municipal councils. Consequently, all three tiers of government carry responsibility for protecting the landscape and ensuring that businesses can operate and local communities develop without harming the World Heritage.

Local responsibility falls to local authorities

Municipal authorities are responsible for management and development at local level. The Planning and Building Act is their most important tool, and the legislation applies to all sectors. According to the Meld. St. 35 (2012–2013) white paper, World Heritage responsibilities should be highlighted in all relevant plans produced by regional and local authorities. These plans should seek to fulfil international commitments, including the World Heritage Convention. Municipal authorities play a key role because they decide on planning applications under the Planning and Building Act. Developments outside the World Heritage property can impact on World Heritage values, so municipal authorities carry significant responsibility for seeing the full picture and making decisions that protect the outstanding natural and cultural heritage.

One of the conditions for inscription on the World Heritage List is local participation and interest. During the process that led to inscription, the municipal council signed a ‘Declaration of Intent’ that committed them to protecting the World Heritage in the future.

The responsibility of protected area councils

Large parts of the World Heritage site are designated landscape protection areas or nature reserves. These areas are governed locally by management councils that work within the framework of Norway’s Nature Diversity Act, conservation regulations and local management plans. Each area has a co-ordinator who is tasked with its day-to-day management. Questions about what activities are allowed within a specific protected area should be directed at the management co-ordinator for that area. Note that many interventions and initiatives in areas with protected status require permission from the area’s management council as well as the local municipal authorities.

Management co-ordinators prepare cases for discussion by the council but can also grant permission for initiatives to go ahead if they are authorised to do so by the council. Management co-ordinators for areas with protected status work for the County Governor. Natural and cultural heritage values will carry most weight in any decision made by management councils for areas with protected status.

To read more about management procedures in the two parts of the World Heritage site, see:
Management plan for Nærøyfjord
Management plan for Geirangerfjord

The responsibility of the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate

The Norwegian Nature Inspectorate is responsible for monitoring protected areas on behalf of the nation’s environmental authorities. They have the power to introduce management interventions like tree felling to prevent fields from becoming overgrown and undesirable species from spreading. They can also improve public access to areas. The inspectorate monitors all cultural monuments and remains and checks whether appropriate measures are implemented in line with resolutions. They provide public guidance about behaviours that promote nature conservation. One of their most important jobs is to prevent environmental crime.

The Nature Inspectorate has dedicated staff assigned to the protected areas around the Geirangerfjord and the Nærøyfjord.

The responsibility of local third-sector foundations

Local organisations follow up on the World Heritage work: Geirangerfjord World Heritage Foundation is a charitable foundation established by the municipalities of Norddal (now Fjord) and Stranda in partnership with Møre og Romsdal County. Their headquarters are at the Norwegian Fjord Centre in Geiranger. Key tasks include public education about the natural heritage of the West Norwegian Fjords, partnership working for sustainable and green development, conservation (e.g. through restoration projects), world heritage competence-building, and providing an arena for scientific research.

Nærøyfjorden World Heritage Park is a foundation established by the municipalities of Aurland, Vik, Lærdal and Voss in partnership with Sogn og Fjordane County (now Vestland County). The partners are local people with a keen interest in the place where they live: individuals, businesses, clubs and associations. The partnership agreement makes them part of a network to which they bring great initiative and drive. This enables them to secure their own investments while protecting and developing their unique local area.

What are the jobs of the World Heritage Coordinators?

There are dedicated co-ordinators in place for the Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord areas. These individuals are tasked with looking after the World Heritage. They have an independent role and a special responsibility for reporting any threats to World Heritage values.

World Heritage Co-ordinators have no management responsibility but serve as a link between local, regional and central government. They know their local area well and monitor status and threats. Networking is another important task, to ensure that we engage with eminent specialists in our work to protect the World Heritage. The co-ordinators serve as secretariat to the World Heritage properties.

The local World Heritage council’s role

an advisory body that aims to ensure co-operation and compliance with the guidelines for the World Heritage Convention and the area management plan. The council co-ordinates initiatives and activities within the two parts of the site, and promotes issues of importance to World Heritage conservation. Much of their work has focused on the conservation of cultural landscapes, and they have secured increased resources that will support livestock agriculture and protect these landscapes. However, the level of support still leaves something to be desired.

The council is made up of representatives of the municipal and county authorities and the County Governor. Representatives of other bodies attend as observers, e.g. the Norwegian Environment Agency, the Directorate for Cultural Heritage, the Norwegian Maritime Authority, the protected area managers, the chairmen of the World Heritage foundations, the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate and the Ministry of Climate and Environment.

Trygve Skjerdal, Mayor of Aurland municipality, chairs the local World Heritage council.
Eva Hove, Mayor of Fjord municipality, is his deputy.

Funding for World Heritage sites

The Norwegian Environment Agency distributes capital funding to the West Norwegian Fjords and the Vega Archipelago while the Directorate for Cultural Heritage distributes capital funding to Norway’s six other World Heritage sites. The funds cover the work of the site co-ordinators and the local World Heritage councils. Additional funding is granted for education and conservation activities.

Authorised World Heritage Centres also receive capital funding, and they can apply for additional project funding. In Geiranger, the Norwegian Fjord Centre received authorisation in 2015, while work to establish a centre for the Nærøyfjord area is still ongoing.

The Directorate for Cultural Heritage awards grants for the conservation of cultural heritage objects within World Heritage properties. This funding is distributed by the County Conservator, who also monitors the practical work.
Municipal authorities allocate world heritage funding assigned to cultural landscapes. The funding is awarded by the Ministry of Climate and Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food.
County and municipal authorities also provide funding for World Heritage sites.

Greater investment is needed if we are to achieve the government’s World Heritage ambitions.