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Standard 4: Cultural Heritage


UNDP recognizes the importance of Cultural Heritage for current and future generations and seeks to ensure that Cultural Heritage is protected in the course of development activities. UNDP seeks to ensure equal participation, access and contribution of women and men in protecting and sharing the benefits of Cultural Heritage.

  • To protect and manage Cultural Heritage
  • To conserve Cultural Heritage and avoid its alteration, damage or removal
  • To promote the equitable sharing of benefits from the use 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 (55); (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 or not 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.

Cultural Heritage refers to (i) tangible forms of cultural heritage, such as tangible
moveable or immovable objects, property sites, structures, or groups of structures, having archaeological (prehistoric), paleontological, historical, cultural, artistic, and religious values; (ii) unique natural features or tangible objects that embody cultural values, such as sacred groves, rocks, lakes, and waterfalls; and (iii) certain instances of intangible forms of culture, defined as the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artifacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. (56)


Avoidance: Avoid significant adverse impacts to Cultural Heritage through alternative
Project siting and design. 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. (57)

Mitigation: Where potential adverse impacts are unavoidable, appropriate mitigation measures will be identified and incorporated as an integral part of the social and environmental assessment process. Where potential adverse impacts may be significant, a Cultural Heritage Management Plan should be developed as part of the Environmental and Social Management Plan (ESMP).

Use of experts: For Projects with potential adverse impacts, qualified and experienced independent experts will assess the Project’s potential impacts on Cultural Heritage using, among other methodologies, field-based surveys and involving meaningful, effective, and informed stakeholder consultations as part of social and environmental assessment process.

Use of Cultural Heritage: Where a Project proposes to utilize Cultural Heritage, including
the knowledge, innovations, or practices of local communities, affected communities will be informed of their rights under Applicable Law, the scope and nature of the proposed development, and the potential consequences of such development. The Project will not proceed without meaningful, effective participation of affected communities and unless (i) good faith negotiations with affected communities result in a documented outcome, and (ii) the Project provides for fair and equitable sharing of benefits from any commercialization of such knowledge, innovation, or practice, consistent with the affected community’s customs and traditions. For Projects that propose to utilize Cultural Heritage of indigenous peoples, the requirements of Standard 6: Indigenous Peoples apply.

Chance find procedures: When the social and environmental assessment process
determines that Cultural Heritage is expected to be found in the Project area, chance find procedures will be included in the ESMP. Chance finds will not be disturbed until an assessment by a competent specialist is made and actions consistent with these requirements are identified.

Conditions for removal: The Project will not remove any Cultural Heritage unless the following conditions are met: (i) no alternatives are available; (ii) the overall benefits of the Project substantially outweigh the anticipated Cultural Heritage loss from removal; and (iii) any removal employs best available techniques and is conducted in accordance with relevant provisions of national and/or local laws, regulations, and protected area management plans and national obligations under international laws.

(55) 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.

(56) UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003), available at​.   
(57) Including the Convention concerning Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, 1972 (UNESCO World Heritage Convention), available at​