Standard 4

Cultural Heritage

Targeted Guidance

Additional Resources



​UNDP recognizes that Cultural Heritage is central to individual and collective identity and memory, providing continuity between the past, present and future. Cultural Heritage reflects and expresses people's constantly evolving values, beliefs, knowledge, traditions and practices. Cultural Heritage also serves a crucial role within the sustainable development process through enhancing social cohesion, diversity, well-being and the quality of life; supporting cultural rights by protecting the heritage of minority and indigenous groups; fostering socio-economic regeneration; enhancing the appeal and creativity of cities and regions; boosting long-term tourism benefits; and enhancing sustainable practices. Cultural Heritage resources are often unique and irreplaceable, and may be particularly fragile due to neglect, exploitation, or even destruction given their symbolism. ​

UNDP seeks to ensure that Cultural Heritage is preserved, protected and promoted in project activities in a manner consistent with UNESCO Cultural Heritage conventions or any other national or international legal instruments that might have a bearing on the use of Cultural Heritage.


  • To protect Cultural Heritage from damage, inappropriate alteration, disruption, removal or misuse
  • To preserve and safeguard Cultural Heritage
  • To promote the equitable sharing of benefits from the use of Cultural Heritage
  • To promote meaningful consultation with stakeholders regarding preservation, protection, utilization and management of Cultural Heritage


​​Scope of Application

The applicability of this Standard is established during the social and environmental screening and categorization process. The Standard applies to projects that may adversely impact Cultural Heritage, including projects that meet any of the following criteria: (i) located in, or in the vicinity of, a Cultural Heritage site;2 (ii) involving significant excavations, demolitions, movement of earth, flooding, or other environmental changes; (iii) proposes to utilize tangible or intangible forms of Cultural Heritage for commercial or other purposes. ​​

The requirements of this Standard apply to Cultural Heritage regardless of whether it has been legally protected or previously disturbed. ​

For projects that may impact the Cultural Heritage of indigenous peoples, the requirements of Standard 6: Indigenous Peoples apply. This Standard shall be interpreted in a manner to be consistent with the Standard 6. ​

The term "Cultural Heritage" includes tangible and intangible heritage which may be recognized and valued at the local, regional, national, or global level,3 as follows:

Tangible Cultural Heritage includes moveable or immovable objects, sites, structures, groups of structures, human settlements and natural features and landscapes that have archaeological, paleontological, historical, architectural, religious, aesthetic, or other cultural significance. Tangible Cultural Heritage may be located in any setting and in any environment (e.g. above or below ground or under water).

Intangible Cultural Heritage, also referred to as living heritage, includes practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills—as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith—that communities/groups recognize as part of their Cultural Heritage, as transmitted from generation to generation and constantly recreated by them in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity. This may include, but is not limited to,: a) oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible Cultural Heritage; b) performing arts; c) social practices, rituals and festive events; d) knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe; or e) traditional craftsmanship.



Avoidance, assessment and mitigation of adverse impacts: UNDP projects seek to avoid supporting activities that may lead to significant adverse impacts to Cultural Heritage. UNDP considers potential direct, indirect, irreversible and cumulative risks and impacts to Cultural Heritage from project activities. Relevant projects implement globally recognized practices for field-study, inventorying, documentation, and protection of Cultural Heritage, including where appropriate a Heritage Impact Assessment.4 Where avoidance is not possible—ensuring that all viable and feasible alternatives have been explored—UNDP minimizes potential impacts per the mitigation hierarchy and adopts appropriate mitigation measures (e.g. relocating or modifying the footprint of supported activities, in situ conservation and rehabilitation). Where potential adverse impacts may be significant, a Cultural Heritage Management Plan should be developed as part of the overall Environmental and Social Management Plan (ESMP). The impacts on Cultural Heritage resulting from project activities, including mitigating measures, may not contravene the country's national legislation, or its obligations under relevant international treaties and agreements.5

Chance find procedures: UNDP projects ensure that chance find procedures are included in all plans and contracts regarding project-related construction, including excavations, demolitions, movement of earth, flooding, or other changes in the physical environment; such procedures establish how chance finds of tangible Cultural Heritage shall be managed, including notification of relevant authorities and stakeholders, avoidance of further disturbance or damage, protection, documentation and assessment of found objects by relevant experts.​ ​

Community participation, stakeholder consultations and use of experts: For projects with potential adverse impacts, qualified and experienced Cultural Heritage experts and relevant stakeholders assist in the identification, documentation and appropriate management (e.g. protection) of potentially affected Cultural Heritage. Ensure meaningful, effective stakeholder consultations are undertaken, including with local and national regulatory authorities entrusted with the protection of Cultural Heritage; local, national or international Cultural Heritage experts and organizations; and affected-parties, including individuals and communities who develop, have developed, use or have used the potentially affected Cultural Heritage within living memory. Where the Cultural Heritage of indigenous peoples may be affected by project activities, ensure that the requirements of the Standard 6: Indigenous Peoples are followed. ​

Continued access: UNDP projects avoid restricting access to Cultural Heritage sites and to the instruments, objects, artefacts, cultural and natural spaces and places of memory necessary for expressing intangible Cultural Heritage. However, where this is not possible, projects ensure continued access based on stakeholder consultations and alternative routes are provided if access is blocked, subject to overriding safety and security considerations.

​Confidentiality and restricted access by communities: Together with stakeholders UNDP projects determine whether disclosure of information regarding Cultural Heritage would compromise or jeopardize its safety or integrity or endanger sources of information. In such cases, sensitive information may be withheld from public disclosure. If communities affected by project activities hold the location, characteristics or traditional use of Cultural Heritage in secret, then the project will support measures to maintain confidentiality and to respect customary practices of communities that limit access to specific aspects of their Cultural Heritage. ​

Integration and use of Cultural Heritage: Where a project proposes to integrate and/or utilize Cultural Heritage, including the knowledge, innovations, or practices of local communities, the project will engage in meaningful consultations and inform affected communities of their rights under Applicable Law, the scope and nature of the proposed development, and the potential consequences of such integration and utilization.

​​Where project activities seek to facilitate commercial use of Cultural Heritage by relevant communities as an option for them to consider (including alternative livelihood development), UNDP projects ensure that communities are informed of their rights and the options available to them. Project activities that envisage supporting specific commercial activities involving Cultural Heritage will not proceed without meaningful, effective participation of affected communities and unless good faith negotiations with affected communities result in a documented outcome that provides for fair and equitable sharing of benefits from such commercial use and appropriate mitigation and safeguarding measures per the mitigation hierarchy. The project will seek to ensure that any such commercial use does not distort the meaning and purpose of the community's Cultural Heritage.6 For projects that propose to utilize Cultural Heritage of indigenous peoples, the requirements of Standard 6: Indigenous Peoples also apply. ​

Intangible Cultural Heritage: UNDP projects ensure respect for the dynamic and living nature of intangible Cultural Heritage and the right of communities, groups and, where applicable, individuals to continue the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge and skills necessary to ensure the viability of their intangible Cultural Heritage. Where projects may involve or affect intangible Cultural Heritage, they will ensure the meaningful participation of concerned parties in identifying risks and impacts to their intangible Cultural Heritage—including its decontextualization, commodification and misrepresentation—and in determining appropriate mitigation and safeguarding measures. This includes in the identification, inventorying, documentation, research, preservation, protection, promotion, enhancement, transmission, and revitalization of the various aspects of such heritage.

​Legally protected Cultural Heritage areas: UNDP projects identify and avoid adverse impacts to legally protected Cultural Heritage areas; comply with defined national or local Cultural Heritage regulations, protected area management plans and/or conservation master plans; consult area sponsors and managers, local communities, local governments, local and national heritage authorities and other key stakeholders; and implement additional programs, as appropriate, to enhance conservation aims of those areas. A Heritage Impact Assessment may be necessary, particularly for sites with an international designation such as cultural World Heritage sites.


​Further Provisions for Specific Types of Cultural Heritage

Archaeological sites and materials: Where there is evidence or high probability of past human activity in the project area, UNDP projects require desk-based research and field surveys to document, map and investigate archaeological remains, document location and characteristics of sites and materials discovered during the project cycle, provide documentation to Cultural Heritage authorities, and provide documentation, with guidance on due obligations, to relevant authorities undertaking project activities (e.g. departments of waterworks, agriculture, tourism, transportation and energy). Projects will determine in consultation with Cultural Heritage experts whether discovered material requires (a) documentation only, (b) excavation and documentation, or (c) conservation in place (in situ); and will ensure management of the site accordingly. Most archaeological features are best protected by preservation in situ. If not possible, the transfer of the Cultural Heritage to another location shall be conducted in consultation with and agreement of project-affected people and appropriate national partners, in accordance with good international practice. UNDP projects will determine ownership and custodial responsibility for discovered material. Until custody is transferred, UNDP will ensure identification, conservation, labeling, secure storage and accessibility for study and analysis. ​​

Built heritage: UNDP projects identify appropriate mitigation measures to address potential impacts on built heritage, which may include (a) documentation; (b) conservation or rehabilitation in situ; and/or (c) relocation, reconstruction and conservation or rehabilitation. Most built heritage features are best protected by preservation in situ. If not possible, then the transfer of the Cultural Heritage to another location shall be conducted in consultation with and agreement of project-affected people, in accordance with good international practice. During any rehabilitation, UNDP projects maintain authenticity of form, construction materials and techniques of structures according to laws, regulations and good international practice. UNDP projects preserve physical and visual context of individual or groups of historic structures by considering appropriateness and effect of supported infrastructure proposed for the location within sight range.

Landscapes and natural features with cultural significance: UNDP projects identify through research and consultation with affected persons and communities the landscape elements and natural features with cultural significance, the people that value such elements and features, and individuals or groups with authority to represent and negotiate regarding their location, protection, and use. Landscapes and natural features derive much of their significance from their location and their holistic environmental context, and often can only be protected by preservation in situ. UNDP projects preserve physical and visual integrity of landscapes by considering appropriateness and effect of project activities (e.g. infrastructure) proposed for the location within sight range. In cases where natural features can physically be relocated and cannot be preserved in situ, their transfer to another location is conducted with participation and agreement of project-affected people, in accordance with good international practice. Project activities and any agreement reached regarding the transfer of natural features shall respect and enable continuation and transmission of the traditional practices associated with the landscape elements and natural features. See also Standard 1 regarding conservation of biodiversity and maintenance of ecosystem services.​

​​Movable Cultural Heritage: UNDP projects include measures to guard against theft and illegal trafficking of movable Cultural Heritage (e.g. books, paintings, sculptures, costumes, jewelry, textiles) and artefacts stored and displayed in museums (or their equivalent) that are affected by project activities and notify relevant authorities if any such activity occurs. UNDP projects identify items that may be endangered and make provision for their protection throughout the project cycle. UNDP projects inform religious or secular authorities or other responsible Cultural Heritage custodians of project activities, schedule and alert them regarding potential vulnerability of movable Cultural Heritage items.


Footnotes: ​

​(1) These conventions include The Hague Convention (for Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict) (1954), The Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970), The Convention on the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (1972), The Convention for the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (2001), The Convention on the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003) and the Convention for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005). See also the work of the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) relating to intellectual property and the protection of traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions.

(2) Examples may include UNESCO World Heritage Sites, legally protected areas, including areas proposed for such designation, and areas recognized by national governments. However Cultural Heritage sites may be unknown and not visible.

(3) The listed elements and features do not need to be ancient in order to be considered Cultural Heritage and the minimum requirements do not apply an age limitation.

(4) For example, see the ICOMOS Guidance on Heritage Impact Assessments for Cultural World Heritage Properties. Where supported activities may affect natural World Heritage sites, see IUCN World Heritage Advice Note on Environmental Assessment.

(5) See earlier footnote listing relevant conventions.

(6) For projects that also propose utilization of genetic resources, see Standard 1 requirements regarding upholding provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity and its Nagoya Protocol.