In a landmark decision, the World Heritage Committee has expanded the World Heritage List by 29%, adding twelve new sites of exceptional natural significance. This expansion follows recommendations from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which serves as the official advisor on natural World Heritage. The newly inscribed sites encompass a diverse range of ecosystems, from the ancient forests of Iran to the hyper-arid deserts of Saudi Arabia, and showcase the remarkable diversity and resilience of life on Earth.
IUCN's recommendations played a pivotal role in shaping this expansion, ensuring that only the most outstanding and well-protected natural sites were added to the World Heritage List. The organization's expertise in conservation and biodiversity assessment was instrumental in evaluating the nominated sites and providing guidance on their management and protection.
Among the newly inscribed sites is Andrefana Dry Forests in Madagascar, an extension of Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve, which now safeguards nearly all of Madagascar's western dry forest centers of endemism. Ethiopia's Bale Mountains National Park, home to a wealth of endemic and endangered species, has also been added to the list, as has the Hyrcanian Forests in Iran, which have been extended to Azerbaijan to encompass ancient forests straddling the Caspian Sea.
Saudi Arabia's 'Uruq Bani Ma'arid, a spectacular hyper-arid desert landscape, and the Cold Winter Deserts of Turan in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, which exemplify the adaptation of terrestrial ecosystems to extreme climates, have also been inscribed. Tajikistan's Tugay forests of the Tigrovaya Balka Nature Reserve, containing the largest Tugay forest massif in Central Asia, have been recognized for their unique biodiversity, while Canada's Anticosti, with its remarkably complete fossil records, has been added for its geological significance.
IUCN's recommendations also led to the expansion of existing World Heritage sites, including France's French Austral Lands and Seas, whose marine areas have been more than doubled, now covering a significant part of the Indian Ocean.
In addition to its advisory role, IUCN provides ongoing support to World Heritage sites, helping to address threats, develop management plans, and build capacity for effective conservation. The organization's expertise and commitment to protecting the world's natural heritage are invaluable in ensuring that these exceptional sites are preserved for future generations.