As a valuable, non-renewable resource for the sustainable development of human society, world heritage is an important record of the development of human civilizations and various phenomena on the Earth, making clear the paths to harmonious development between human beings and nature. The physical and chemical characteristics of cultural and natural heritage sites form a foundation for multi-platform, multi-band and multi-mode remote sensing technologies to reflect geometric and spectral characteristics, from which we can identify other features that make the site distinct and valuable. In this way, remote sensing technology has remarkable potential for monitoring and preserving world heritage. From the perspective of disciplinary development, studying world heritage through space-based information technology is becoming a new subject area, which covers natural and social sciences, humanities, and engineering and so on.

Establishing the International Centre on Space Technologies for Natural and Cultural Heritage (HIST) was a way to exercise our ideals. Beginning in 2000, we have conducted research on world heritage sites using earth observation technology for ten years with ten significant strides forward. In 2001, in affiliation with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Chinese Ministry of Education (MOE), and China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH), the Joint Laboratory of Remote Sensing for Archaeology (JLRSA) was established together with ten remote sensing archaeology work stations in ten provinces and autonomous regions. In 2002, the First National Conference on Remote Sensing Archaeology was inaugurated by JLRSA. In 2003, the 216th Xiangshan Session, themed “Spatial cognition on the information of human cultural heritage”, was held by JLRSA. In 2004, the First International Conference on Remote Sensing Archaeology was inaugurated by JLRSA. In 2005, JLRSA signed with UNESCO as a partner of the “ESA-UNESCO Open Initiative on the Use of Space Technologies to Support the World Heritage Convention”. In 2006, JLRSA conducted the Second International Conference on Remote Sensing Archaeology jointly with UNESCO and the Italian government. In 2007, CAS proposed to UNESCO to establish HIST in China and in 2008, the 179th Session of the Executive Board of UNESCO approved the feasibility report of HIST. In 2009, the 35th General Conference of UNESCO approved the establishment of HIST. By 2010, all preparatory work for HIST’s establishment had been carried out, and in 2011, UNESCO and the government of the People’s Republic of China officially signed an agreement on the establishment of HIST in Beijing.

HIST, an international academic institution under the auspices of UNESCO, offers an authoritative international communication platform for world heritage research using space technology. Guided by the development philosophy of UNESCO, HIST is hosted by the Center for Earth Observation and Digital Earth (CEODE), CAS, by virtue of the software and hardware advantages of CEODE with respect to space technologies. HIST will cooperate with research institutions, universities, world heritage organizations in related countries and regions all over the world including China to conduct research and training in the fields of natural and cultural heritage, biosphere reserves, climatic change and natural disasters.

With resplendent civilizations, broad territory and abundant heritage, China ranks third in the World Cultural Heritage List in terms of the number of sites, and also plays a very important role in the world in the development of space technologies. The establishment of HIST in China not only reflects the foresight of UNESCO, but also creates an opportunity for scientists in remote sensing in China to participate in world heritage research. Through the platform of UNESCO, HIST will further exploit international cooperation, centralize its superior strengths in space technologies and world heritage research, and enhance capacity building in the aspects of scientific decision-making, development and social services. Based on the strategic needs of world heritage research, HIST will lead and promote the construction and development of this new inter-discipline and to make unique contributions to UNESCO and world heritage conservation.

I sincerely thank all those who have supported and contributed to HIST’s development for their excellent care, concernand assistance!