I think the January meeting in Paris referred to in the NZ press report is the "Opening Ceremony" for the International Year of Astronomy (IYA) - 2009 because it is 400th anniversary of Galileo's telescope. This Web site is all about ithttp://www.astronomy2009.org/
To see the link from the IYA to UNESCO and WHS you should follow down to press releases where you will see that, as recently as Oct 30 UNESCO signed an agreement with the International astronomical Union (IAU) in which "The IAU will be integrally involved in the process of developing UNESCO's Astronomy and World Heritage Initiative, helping to promote astronomical sites of "Outstanding Universal Value".
"Adopting the successful strategy previously applied to architectural and natural sites, the new UNESCO Astronomy and World Heritage initiative will officially recognise, promote and preserve astronomical sites that are of outstanding significance to humankind"
The trouble is that "until now, there have been few precedents and no guidelines for nominations relating principally to astronomy. Identifying and defining criteria that demonstrate "Outstanding Universal Value" in relation to astronomy is not a straightforward task. They must encompass a wide range of sites, from prehistoric monuments to modern observatories. Helping to establish such criteria is the IAU Working Group's top priority. As Ruggles says, "without such guidelines member states of UNESCO will have little motivation to put forward astronomical sites for the World Heritage List, since they will have very little idea of their chances of success. The agreement between UNESCO and the IAU is designed to set the wheels in motion. As a result, astronomical heritage will become much better represented in the World Heritage List."
It might be that a site could be "fast tracked" during 2009 for the IYA but it does seem a bit late to do so - and the NZ story is talking of a "Pilot study". More likely that the guidelines will be developed and agreed by a WHC (but as quickly as this summer - that isn't the sort of speed at which UNESCO works is it ????) before NZ might get its chance!! But of course there are plenty of other potential "astronomical sites" which don't involve quite such a radical re-interpetation of the guidelines. The UNESCO site page about the initiative http://whc.unesco.org/en/activities/19/
states "This Initiative provides us with an opportunity to identify properties related to astronomy located around the world, to preserve their memory and save them from progressive deterioration."
So any potential Astronomy related WHS arising from the Initiative doesn't HAVE to be about "clear skies". It does so happen however that one of the IAU's major themes is about Dark Skies and a "Cornerstone project" for the IYA is "Dark Skies awareness".
This Powerpoint shows the history of the IYA initiative and includes an interesting statement
"According to the WHC the Sky cannot be nominated
on the WH list or protected under this Convention. Only Natural or cultural properties located on the territory of states parties
could be proposed for nomination". It then goes on to put forward the argument for Tekapohttp://www.communicatingastronomy.org/cap2007/talks/071008_01/alarcon_01.ppt#1
This shows that they would be thinking of inscribing "it" (i.e. the land and thus the sky above it!!) as a natural
site rather than as a new list or category - though whether IUCN gets pushed aside in favour of IAU for this sort of nomination (or ICOMOS if the astronomy-related site is more "monumental") isn't clear.
I can't say I am very sympathetic to the idea of a "clear skies WHS" but "Watch this space"!
PS this intiative is also connected to the "failure" of Darwin at Downe" to get accepted in 2007 (When an awkward ICOMOS offical said "Non!" and thus thwarted the UK Government's hopes to celebrate another centennial!) and the meeting to which I have referred to in other posts http://www.worldheritagesite.org/forums/index.php?action=vthread&forum=4&topic=88
about reinterpreting the criteria and guidelines to make it easier for scientific sites to get accepted