UNESCO projects leads the way on sustainable development and creates values for local communities 

Published: 26 June 2020

New research shows UNESCO projects can help build a greener, more equal and more peaceful world, while also creating financial value, a report published by the UK National Commission for UNESCO revealed.

Professor Alison Phipps, UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts at the University of Glasgow, at a workshop with Ignite Theatre and Tawona Sitolé, Artist in Residence  The UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration  has attracted a total of £1.56 million in funding and grants since its inception in 2016.  Credit: Robin Mitchell


Published today 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 each year and help bring communities together to protect and conserve some of the most important places across the country.

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, businesses and universities.

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 Nation’s 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 of are also leading research on vital issues such as water scarcity, refugee integration, climate change and child literacy.

Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, said: “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 Alison Phipps, UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts based at the University of Glasgow, said: “Our work provides a model with our African-European team, for global perspectives on tangible and intangible cultural heritage and their wider value for sustainable development and green recovery, showing how the arts are of vital and intrinsic value to flourishing intercultural societies.

“Working in Gaza, Ghana, Aotearoa New Zealand, Zimbabwe and with new projects developing with partners in Mexico, Morocco and with UKRI GCRF South-South Migration, Inequality and Development Hub (MIDEQ ) it has a full programme of work ahead in what are challenging and changing times.”

Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General, said: "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 to UNESCO is a blueprint for sustainability, and I believe all Countries can take inspiration from this research."
Environment and Community

The research highlights the cultural, environmental and financial value of 76 UNESCO projects in the UK. It reveals a creative network rooted in community, rich in potential, and impacting lives here and around the world.

Examples of UNESCO projects with a positive impact on the environment and communities including the UNESCO Global Geopark in Scotland and the Jurassic Coast and Marble Arch Caves in England. 

The UNESCO trail in Scotland is a digital asset to be launched in partnership with VisitScotland, the UK National Commission for UNESCO and Scotland’s UNESCO designations. The trail connects 13 UNESCO designations and aims to increase the value of tourism to these sites by encouraging visitors to stay longer and spend more locally, improving, in turn, the quality of life of the local communities. The trail was due to be launched in early 2020 but has been delayed until after the coronavirus crisis.

Dr Laura Hamlet, Geopark Coordinator at the North West Highlands UNESCO Global Geopark, said: “If we lost UNESCO status, what would make us different from any other community organisation? I feel that it gives me more confidence both to be entrepreneurial and to write a funding application. It’s not just us that thinks we’re special, the UN thinks that it’s special. It shows you that you’ve got the outside support – that something beyond the UK, Europe, globally, has said that “We believe that this organisation has the ability to manage this heritage and we believe that it’s special.” 

The 2020 UNESCO National Value Report states: “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.” 

James Bridge, Secretary-General of the UK National Commission for UNESCO said: “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.”

UK Government Heritage Minister Nigel Huddleston MP said: "From Stonehenge to Jodrell Bank, our UNESCO sites tell the story of our shared history and attract visitors from all over the world. This research is testament to the important role these sites play in their local communities and, once it is safe to do so, we will be encouraging people to visit."

Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture (Scotland), Fiona Hyslop MSP, said: “At a time when our culture, heritage and tourism sectors face great challenges, this report is a timely and welcome reminder of the incredible value of Scotland’s world class UNESCO sites.

“As we chart our path out of the COVID-19 crisis, building an inclusive and sustainable recovery for the people of Scotland and playing our part on the international stage, these sectors will play a vital role at the heart of our communities.”


UNESCO World Heritage Sites rank among the most visited attractions in 2018 and are significant contributors to the UK economy. The research analysed the impact of being granted official UNESCO status, which has helped the 76 sites and projects surveyed generate an estimated £151 million to the UK economy in just one year. 

However the total figure disguises significant variations, even before the challenges brought by Covid-19. Some sites still struggle to secure sufficient funding whether through tourism or other means, due to a low profile and lack of resources, and these problems will have been exacerbated during the lockdown. Investment in these sites is critical to increase cross-disciplinary work and enhance their contribution to the UK economy.

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.

The UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts

The UNESCO Chair hosted within the School of Education at the University of Glasgow undertakes a programme of work focused on multilingual knowledge exchange in the area of refugee and humanitarian protection, with a focus on fostering integration through creative and cultural expressions. Chair activities take place in collaboration with the University of Glasgow’s Refugee, Asylum and Migration Network (GRAMNet) and its wide range of international researchers, artists, public and third sector organisations, NGOs, migrants and refugees. More details here - 

About the UK National Commission for UNESCO

The UK National Commission for UNESCO (UKNC) works to support the UK’s contribution to UNESCO and bring the benefits of UNESCO to the UK. It is the hub for UNESCO-related matters in the UK.The UKNC has four core priorities:

We provide expert, independent policy advice to the UK and devolved governments on UNESCO related issues.

  • We advise and support individuals and institutions in the UK, its Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies on accessing UNESCO accreditation and prizes and how to derive more value from their involvement with UNESCO.
  • We support the UK Government’s agenda in helping UNESCO to become more effective.
  • We act as a hub for the UK’s 165 UNESCO designations.


First published: 26 June 2020

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