National Value of UNESCO to the United Kingdom

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The National Value of UNESCO Designations to the United Kingdom shows how UNESCO is bringing sites, people and communities together, and creating and delivering value for the United Kingdom.

The research demonstrates that UNESCO designations deliver the UK’s commitment to creating a more sustainable, peaceful and equitable future at a local, national and international level. It provides governments, stakeholders, communities, designations and the public an opportunity to understand the contribution a global network covering  12% of the UK, or 10 million km2 globally (equivalent to the size of Canada) makes.

A word from Audrey Azoulay

‘At a time when we all look for solutions to build more resilient societies after Covid-19, UNESCO sites offer a wealth of concrete actions to reinvent our relationship with nature, to develop decent jobs and foster social cohesion. This report by the UK National Commission for UNESCO is a blueprint for sustainability, and I believe all Countries can take inspiration from this research.’

UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, in Paris, France, 25 June 2020

Press Release

UNESCO sites lead the way on sustainable development and create value for communities across the UK

Published today (25 June 2020) by the UK National Commission for UNESCO, new research shows UNESCO projects can help build a greener, more equal and more peaceful world, while also creating financial value.

UNESCO projects in the UK generate an estimated £151 million of financial benefit to local communities each year and help bring them together to protect and conserve some of the most important places across the country.

Set up as a specialised agency of the United Nations in the wake of the Second World War, UNESCO harnesses the power of education, culture, science, communication and information to advance global peace building, sustainable development, intercultural dialogue and the eradication of poverty.

From expansive mountain ranges in the Highlands of Scotland to densely populated urban areas such as Belfast, Bradford and Manchester, UNESCO certified projects include Global Geoparks, World Heritage Sites, Biosphere Reserves and Creative Cities. The projects span 12% of the UK’s land area and comprise of partnerships between 1,300 organisations, charities, and businesses.

These partnerships are made mainly on a local level, between hundreds of groups all working together to support efforts in conservation, research, education, capacity building and tourism. This new research shows that continued investment in UNESCO projects is critical in helping the UK and devolved governments meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The report is the first to examine the cultural, environmental and financial benefits to UK life from these diverse UNESCO projects, and their active contribution to the SDGs. Along with preserving precious landscapes, buildings and archives, UNESCO projects are also leading research on vital issues such as water scarcity, refugee integration, climate change and child literacy.

‘This research shows the unique value offered by UNESCO projects in the UK. They embody community and enable us to preserve and enjoy our most special places and culture. They also pioneer solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems and inspire hope in these unprecedented times. Within this report are a number of case studies that can help inform the UK’s path towards a green recovery from the coronavirus crisis.’

Secretary-General of the UK National Commission for UNESCO, James Bridge, in London, UK, 25 June 2020

The 2020 report explores the financial value and wider social and cultural value of UNESCO designations, and how they are fulfilling the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Set up as a specialised agency of the United Nations in the wake of the Second World War, UNESCO harnesses the power of Education, Culture, Science, Communication and Information to advance global peace building, sustainable development, intercultural dialogue and the eradication of poverty. But what is the reach and value of UNESCO in the UK?

The UK is home to 171 UNESCO sites and projects, involving an impressive network of experts, stakeholders and communities, determined to advance UNESCO’s mission. Although different in nature and focus, UNESCO designations are united in their efforts to enhance peace, sustainable development, and foster a better understanding of the world.

The 2020 programme analysed and captured how the UK benefits from these diverse UNESCO designations, and how their UNESCO status helps them to deliver their project initiatives.

The report finds that not only are UNESCO designations delivering financial benefits (£151 million each year), UNESCO designations have a far-reaching impact on communities, culture and nature. They are custodians of heritage, drivers of knowledge, and testing grounds for innovation. They build bridges between people, culture and nature. They are triggers of creativity and stepping stones for collaboration.


The Financial Value of UNESCO designations to the United Kingdom

Mountainous biosphere reserves, multi-cultural cities, university research programmes and community-led partnerships: the UK’s UNESCO designations are diverse in their reach, geography and focus.

This chapter explores the financial impact of UNESCO status on 76 of our unique designations across the UK. It uncovers some of the economic benefits and challenges associated with being awarded the UNESCO accolade and highlights opportunities to release the potential status this offers.


£151 million in one year

UNESCO status attracts funding

Government is the #1 funder


UNESCO status helps UNESCO UK designations to attract substantial funding (£151 million for the year for which data was collected) and to make a significant contribution to the UK economy. However designations’ ability to use the UNESCO status to attract additional funding differs significantly between designation types: some World Heritage sites generated the lion’s share of additional income followed by UNESCO Chairs and Global Geoparks. Yet the financial contribution of UNESCO designations is neither the only nor the best way to fully understand how they bring value to the UK.


The Wider Social and Cultural Value of UNESCO Designations to the UK

The financial value of the UK’s UNESCO designations is only part of their story. Though harder to measure and capture, the deeper value of the UK’s UNESCO network lies in their rich and creative programme of work. Our research seeks to give a voice to that value and identifies five key activities which unite our diverse designations: conservation, education, research, capacity-building and management and planning.

Every UNESCO designation is part of UNESCO’s global mission and mandate in education, science, culture, communication and information. Some conserve the UK’s biological and geological diversity, foster the sustainable use of natural resources and use geology to teach communities about sustainable resource management. Others use the creative industries as a tool to sustainably transform the future of UK cities. What unites them all, however, is their commitment to advancing UNESCO’s global mission of peace and sustainable development.


The value of the UK’s designations lies in their rich and creative contribution to the UK’s environment, culture and communities. They are united through five broad activities in which all UK UNESCO designations engage to some extent to deliver their objectives:




Capacity Building

Management and Planning


UK designations carry out at least five activities to promote peace and enhance sustainable development in the UK and beyond, and their UNESCO status plays a crucial role in this.

Particularly striking is how all designations place the community at the core of their work. Their commitment to UNESCO’s values and objectives means they share a strong interest in bringing people together to build and nurture meaningful relationships with nature, heritage and each other.

In pursuit of these goals, UNESCO designations work with a vast range of partners and stakeholders who help them carry out impactful, creative and innovative project and initiatives.


United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: Analysing and Building on the Value of UNESCO Designations in the UK

A key measure of the wider value of UNESCO designations to the UK is their contribution to the internationally agreed United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In September 2015, United Nations Member States unanimously agreed on an ambitious new blueprint for peace and prosperity for all people and the planet. The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Goals marked a critical turning point in the international development landscape – it is the first time that world leaders have pledged common action across such a broad and universal policy agenda including ending poverty, mitigating climate change and gender equality.

The UK National Commission for UNESCO survey has found that the UK’s UNESCO designations are adding to the fulfilment of the SDGs in the UK and beyond through a diverse range of projects and programmes. Based on the designation’s own assessment, the survey identifies key trends in designations’ contribution to the SDGs which complement UNESCO’s global priorities.


  • SDG n°4 Quality Education
  • SDG n°13 Climate Action
  • SDG n°17 Partnerships
  • SDG n°3 Good Health and Wellbeing
  • SDG n°8 Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG n°9 Innovation and Infrastructure
  • SDG n°11 Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG n°14 Life below water 


From sustainable tourism solutions for UNESCO World Heritage Sites to interactive video games promoting mental health in a multi-cultural city and pioneering work to assess climate vulnerability – the diverse and creative range of activities designations are engaged in to support sustainable development within communities need to be promoted and enhanced.

With increased support and co-ordination, the work of designations could be further aligned with this vital global agenda.

Your Response

Don’t just take our word for it. Find out about the value of UNESCO projects in the UK through reading quotes from politicians, journalists, businesses, communities and people below

“Here in the Lake District we will shortly celebrate the third anniversary of achieving World Heritage Site status. Prior to the COVID19 pandemic the English Lake District was a significant draw both to our international and domestic visitors. With the reopening of the visitor economy I am confident that we will work with our local businesses, communities and partner organisations to begin reaping again the many benefits that inscription brings. We welcome today’s report, which highlights the economic and social value of UNESCO projects to communities.”

Steve Ratcliffe Lake District National Park's Director of Sustainable Development

``The University of Glasgow is proud to be recipient and host of the UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts and to see this work featuring boldly in UNESCO’s report on sustainable development. The Chair at Glasgow is the only UNESCO Chair worldwide with a direct focus on refugees.”

Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of Glasgow

``The designation of Dundee back in 2014 was an important milestone on our journey to becoming an internationally-recognised hub of creativity and culture. Unesco statues provides global promotion of the city, its culture and businesses. Being attached to the Unesco brand opens up possibilities for increased investment and employment, as well as building international connections and delivering a programme of events which appeal to locals and visitors alike. As this report makes clear, Unesco projects bring a range of cultural, environmental and financial benefits. It’s great to see Dundee being recognised within it is a cultural hotspot.``

John Alexander Dundee City Council leader

``This report marks the 75th anniversary of UNESCO's founding in the UK. The UK co-founded the organisation to help build the structures to create a better world after the carnage of World War II. Seventy-five years later we find ourselves again in crisis. This report highlights the economic and social value of UNESCO projects to communities across the UK, and which will need significant investment as the economy recovers.``

Professor Colin McInnes Chair, UK National Commission for UNESCO

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