The results of the IUCN World Heritage Outlook 3 indicate that for 63% of all sites (159) the conservation outlook is either “good” or “good with some concerns”, while for 30% (75 sites) the outlook is of “significant concern”, and for 7% (18 sites) it is assessed as “critical”. These results are for the 252 natural World Heritage sites listed as of November 2020, including new sites which have been inscribed on the World Heritage List since the 2017 report.
The conservation outlook for natural World Heritage sites in 2020 is similar to the overall results in 2017, with a 1% decrease in sites assessed as either “good” or “good with some concerns” between 2017 and 2020. It shows that conservation prospects remain positive for almost two thirds of all natural sites, while also indicating that further significant efforts are required to improve the outlook of many sites.
When comparing results only for sites where three sets of data are now available (228 sites), the conservation outlook of these sites in 2020 remains similar to that of 2017 and 2014, with the exception of a small, but sustained decrease in sites assessed as “good”.
24 sites have a changed outlook
The conservation outlook of 24 sites changed between 2017 and 2020, with 16 deteriorating and only 8 improving. This is a marked shift in the pattern from 2017, when almost equal numbers of sites either improved (14) or deteriorated (12) compared to 2014.
When considering changes over the three assessments since 2014, approximately 17% of all natural sites changed their conservation outlook at least once.
Threats to natural World Heritage sites continue to increase
The IUCN World Heritage Outlook assesses both current and potential threats. The 2020 results show that almost all categories of threats are occurring in an increasing number of natural World Heritage sites.
Climate change continues to affect more and more natural World Heritage sites. In 2014, climate change was identified as the most significant potential threat, and in 2017, it became the fastest growing threat. In 2020, climate change has become the most prevalent current threat, and still remains by far the largest potential threat.
Invasive alien species, assessed as the most common threat both in 2014 and 2017, follows closely behind climate change as the second most common current threat in 2020. It is followed by impacts from a range of threats derived from human activities: tourism visitation, hunting, fishing, water pollution, fires and logging.
Current threats assessed as high or very high in 2020, 2017 and 2014
Potential threats assessed as high or very high in 2020, 2017 and 2014
The effectiveness of protection and management remains of concern
The 2020 results for all 252 natural World Heritage sites show that just 50% of sites have effective or highly effective protection and management overall.
When comparing the 228 sites for which three data sets are now available, this represents a slight improvement since 2017 (48%). The percentage of sites with overall effective management has increased in Europe, Asia, South America and the Arab States when compared to 2017.
However, critical aspects of protection and management such as sustainable financing, effective enforcement, staffing, and general management effectiveness consistently show as of serious concern in many sites. Sustainable finance emerged as the most recurring issue rated as of serious concern in 2017 and it remains so in 2020.
Number of sites where specific protection and management aspects were assessed as highly effective in 2020 (top six categories)
Number of sites where specific protection and management aspects were assessed as being of serious concern in 2020 (top six categories)
The Coronavirus pandemic is causing revenue loss and increasing risk of poaching
A picture is emerging of the initial impacts on sites from the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. The IUCN World Heritage Outlook 3 assessment cycle started before COVID-19 became globally widespread, so the issue could not be recorded systematically for all sites. Nevertheless, more than 50 sites have recorded actual or potential impacts from COVID-19 to date.
Some assessments note positive aspects stemming from the pandemic, most notably a decrease in pressure from tourism visitation on natural ecosystems. However, negative factors are numerous. The closing of sites to tourism causes significant revenue loss, and has limited in-person staffing in some sites, which can lead to reduced control over illegal activities. These factors, in addition to loss of livelihoods from tourism in some sites, are increasing the risk of wildlife poaching and illegal use of natural resources for several sites.
Positive examples show that conservation works
Despite concerning trends, there is still a majority of sites assessed with a positive conservation outlook. These sites provide examples of best practice, demonstrating the potential of World Heritage sites in addressing complex challenges. The many stories of determination and success happening at the ground are detailed in the 252 Conservation Outlook Assessments available online on worldheritageoutlook.iucn.org.