The United States’ dues represents 22 percent of the UNESCO general budget, providing vital funds for their programs including the World Heritage Fund. In 2011, UNESCO admitted Palestine as a member, triggering two US laws that limit funding to international agencies “which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states.” Dues for FY2012 have been withheld and FY2013 dues are expected to be withheld this Fall. After two years of non-payment, the United States will lose its vote and potentially jeopardize nominations to the World Heritage List.
The United States lost it’s vote in UNESCO on Friday, November 8, 2013.
On July 26, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved (19-11) a waiver proposed by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) that would allow the United States to pay $700,000 to UNESCO specifically for World Heritage. If this waiver ends up becoming law, the U.S. will, unfortunately, still lose our vote in UNESCO. The hope is, however, that the World Heritage Committee will not discriminate against our potential World Heritage sites since we have paid at least the World Heritage portion of our dues. More →

Partnering to Bring World Heritage to the Hill

Preservation Action teamed up with US/ICOMOS in July of 2013 to tackle the issue of a waiver to allow for funding of UNESCO and World Heritage. While we have shared an office with US/ICOMOS for some time, this is the first such joint venture we’ve undertaken. Our Interim Director, John LaRue, joined with US/ICOMOS Director Don Jones to bring in Parker Jean, a political science major at Santa Monica College, to work exclusively on this issue. After working with Don to gain background knowledge of UNESCO and World Heritage, John and Parker developed one pagers for both Preservation Action members and members of Congress. They then joined the National Parks Conservation Association in a lobby day with grassroots activists from Louisiana, Texas, and Ohio, to lobby their members of Congress. John and Parker met with staffers in the following offices to discuss the issue: Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN), Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE), Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX).

Download a PDF one-pager perfect to send or leave with your Reps  

Download a PDF informational one-pager as a UNESCO resource  

Importance of the World Heritage List


Cultural Tourism, Local Economics and Employment

A recent study determined that adding the San Antonio Franciscan Missions of Texas to the World Heritage List would have an overall economic impact of $100 million, add 1,000 new jobs, and bring in an additional $2 million in hotel tax revenue – and we already know the positive impact of the site as a National Historical Park. Another study in Ohio for proposed World Heritage Sites there had similar results. World Heritage Sites in the United States stimulate the local economy and create jobs that can never be outsourced.


American Leadership of World Heritage

The United States has long recognized the importance of protecting the cultural  heritage of our country. It was officially demonstrated at a White House Conference in 1965 calling for a World Heritage Trust that would stimulate international cooperation to protect “the world’s superb natural and scenic areas and historic sites for the present and the future of the entire world citizenry.” Soon after, UNESCO adopted the Convention concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, with the US signing on, to consciously recognize the intrinsic value of cultural and natural heritage and the necessity in preserving it.


International Prestige

A site is officially nominated upon the recognition of its outstanding universal value. The opportunity to successfully nominate a World Heritage Site garners not only a sense of pride for the country, but also a sense of pride in the world. The US played a pivotal role in the development of the World Heritage Convention and the international community continues to award us with great respect for doing so. Continuing to be a voting member of UNESCO and promoting our nominated Sites shows the country’s commitment to recognizing the past accomplishments of our collective world culture, of which we are a small but very supportive member.

Legislative Options

When UNESCO admitted Palestine as a member, it triggered two US laws that disallow funds to be appropriated to organizations that recognize a “terrorist state”— according to US law, Palestine currently falls under this definition.

  • P.L. 103-236 (1990) stated the United States shall not make contributions to “…any affiliated organization of the United Nations which grants full membership as a state to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood…”
  • P.L. 101-246 (1994) states “ funds authorized to be appropriated by this act or any other act shall be available for the United Nations or any specialized agencies thereof which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states…


Blanket Waiver would waive P.L 103-236 and P.L 101-246 and allow for the full appropriation of funding for UNESCO to be paid.
Targeted World Heritage Waiver would also waive those laws but, in the case of our ask, would only allow dues appropriated to the World Heritage program, around $700,000, to be paid.

World Heritage Sites Nominations at Risk

San Antonio Fransican Missions, Texas

The Missions are currently on the US Tentative List to the World Heritage Center, and are seeking a nomination in 2014. As posted by the World Heritage Center, the Missions have already met the requirement of “outstanding universal value.”

Mission Concepción, ca. 1731, one of five Franciscan Missions of the National Historical Park and World Heritage List nomination. Photo by Meagan Baco.

The San Antonio Missions tell a story of conquest, Franciscan missions, religion, indigenous people and critical battles. During an age of expansion and colonization, countries sent troops to the Americas hoping to claim territory as their own. In order to compete with the French and British, the Spanish set up missions in what is now east Texas. These Spaniards acculturated many of the surrounding Native Americans into their communities by making them pledge to their king and accepting the ideals of their church. Franciscan Missionaries also sought to make life within these communities resemble Spanish villages and culture. After the Mexican revolution occurred, Mexicans became independent from Spain. Soon thereafter the Texas revolution was fought and a gruesome battle took place at what is now the historical site of the Alamo.

While the San Antonio Franciscan Missions provide a cultural understanding of our past, they also serve as a critical economic source of the present. A recent study, by Harbinger Consulting Group, determined that adding the Missions to the World Heritage List will have an overall economic boost of $100 million, add 1,000 new jobs, and bring in an additional $2 million in hotel tax revenue.

Download the “Economic Impacts of World Heritage Site Designation” study  

Poverty Point, Louisiana

Outgoing US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar officially announced Poverty Point as a nomination to the World Heritage Centre in Paris, after preparation from the state and National Park Service.
Poverty Point Mound A_ Photo by Diana Greenleex

Dating to 1700 and 1100 BC the Poverty Point site in Louisiana it is the largest and most complex for its age, with Mound A being the second largest earthwork in North America. Photo by Diana Greenlee.

Located in Northeastern Louisiana, Poverty Point shares a special location of our ancestors, dating approximately 3,400 years ago. It is comprised of five mounds, C-shaped earthen rings, and a flat plaza, stretching several hundred acres next to the Mississippi River. This exciting cultural site is majestic to some and mysterious to others. The original purpose remains undetermined and within the archaeological community, where theories range from settlements to trading centers, to ceremonial constructions. While the intent of the mounds is a mystery, there is significant evidence to show signs of a highly organized and civilized society, capable of working together in large groups. Poverty Point is a great example of the history of our country, predating the New England colonies and shining light to the people that lived before us.

Download a PDF Fact Sheet about Poverty Point  

List of World Heritage Sites in the United States

Ask your members of Congress to support continued participation in the World Heritage Convention by supporting funding for UNESCO and a waiver from the law prohibiting payment of dues to UNESCO—both of which the Administration requested in its FY2014 budget.

List of US World Heritage Sites by State and Representative  

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the affect of US non-payment on UNESCO programs?

Withholding funding will have a negative impact on UNESCO programs and activities, including holocaust education programs, tsunami early warning systems, educational programs for women and girls literacy programs in the Middle East, and the World Heritage Fund. The funding sources for many of UNESCO’s programs come directly out of its regular budget.

If we cut funding, it is highly plausible that our sites will not be considered as world heritage sites. It is critical for the United States to continue its commitment to the World Heritage Convention to further our participation in the international community and protect these cultural sites in order to pass them onto future generations.

Why can’t we be a part of international organizations that recognize Palestine?
Since Israel declared its statehood in 1948, the surrounding Arab communities have disputed the borders of Israel and have not been able to negotiate a plan for both states. The United States refuses to accept Palestine as an official state until there are direct negotiations between the Palestinian leadership and Israel. In an effort to expand their recognition as a nation, Palestine successfully sought the title of ‘observer state’ during a UNESCO general conference. Laws established in the United States in 1990 and 1994, disallow U.S. funds being appropriated to organizations that recognize a “terrorist state”— according to U.S. law, Palestine currently falls under this definition. After UNESCO recognized Palestine in 2011, we have not paid our dues to the organization since that time.  
Who administers World Heritage?
The World Heritage Convention was made possible through UNESCO which provides mechanisms for the drafting, adoption and review of several international conventions and commissions. The World Heritage Committee, which is composed of representatives from 21 of the state parties signed on to the convention,  is responsible for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention, defines the use of the World Heritage Fund and allocates financial assistance upon requests from States Parties. 
What country has the most World Heritage Sites?
The country with the most World Heritage sites is Italy, at 49. The top five other countries include China with 45, Spain: 44, France: 38, Germany: 38, and Mexico: 32. The United States falls 10th with 21 sites.