Series: Heritage and Our Sustainable Future

Issue 2; 17th June 2021

Bridging the Gaps: Cultural Heritage for Climate Action

From the Heritage and Our Sustainable Future Conference comes the HOSF Series.

We are working in partnership with PRAXIS at the University of Leeds (UK) and with support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to deliver a series of brief reports honing in on key themes within the cultural heritage for sustainable development sphere.

 

Brief reports are released throughout the year. Check out the complete* series below!

*subject to release date

ISSN 2752-7026

📑    Series Homepage  

What and Why?

Agreed in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) unite 193 Governments with the shared aim of leaving both our planet and societies on a sustainable footing for future generations.

No poverty, clean energy, sustainable cities and quality education are among the challenging targets that must be met no later than 2030. The pressure is on, and it’s all hands-on deck with experts from across the globe rallying to this call. Since cultural heritage is an expression of human communities through diverse media, experts work to safeguard all manners of heritage: from vast buildings, works of art and folklore, to artefacts, language and landscapes. The shared goal, however, is simple: preserve the past so that future generations might enjoy, benefit and learn from its legacy. Likewise, the Sustainable Development sector works to meet the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations.

Read the Cultural Heritage for Climate Action Brief Report

01

🔑 Insights

1 Climate change is of global concern, affecting communities worldwide, and their heritage, in different ways.

Climate change impacts not only on communities’ livelihoods, food security, and well-being, but also on the richness and diversity of heritage assets and values. It is a growing threat to UNESCO World Heritage (WH) properties worldwide, many of which are experiencing damage, degradation and other negative consequences.

2Cultural heritage, particularly intangible heritage, is a source of resilience and an asset supporting communities in climate action.

Traditional and Indigenous knowledge, practices, social customs, ethical values, belief systems, rituals, and world-views all offer communities resilient approaches and guidance in adapting to a changing climate and assist in mitigating its effects.

3Cultural heritage conservation and management, community resilience, and climate action should be considered in a single framework.

Climate adaptation, resilience, and traditional knowledge and practices are interrelated and should be comprehensively integrated into heritage research and methodologies, conservation approaches, and management processes.

02

🔑 Recommendations

1 Climate change is of global concern, affecting communities worldwide, and their heritage, in different ways.

  • Recognise existing inequalities in the way communities experience the impact of climate change.
  • Promote studies, assessments, and the development of tools to understand the vulnerability of heritage sites and their communities to the impacts of climate change, looking at physical, economic, social, and environmental interdependencies.
  • Use cultural heritage to promote global values and solidarity between different communities, to set global priorities, and to find collaborative solutions.

2Cultural heritage, particularly intangible heritage, is a source of resilience and an asset supporting communities in climate action.

  • Recognise the importance of traditional knowledge, practices, and nature-culture approaches in heritage site management and climate action methodologies. Develop and implement heritage-based policies for tackling climate change and its impacts.
  • Acknowledge the role played by all sectors of society in maintaining and applying traditional understanding and skills, and the contribution this makes in this field.
  • Exchange case studies to provide practical solutions to addressing climate change by harnessing the potential of local tangible and intangible heritage resources.
  • Use heritage to increase awareness among researchers, practitioners, policymakers, land managers and local communities (especially youth) of the effects of climate change, and their capacity to take positive action.
  • Foster heritage preservation, repair, and maintenance to reduce greenhouse gases, adapt to climate change, and provide effective tools to mitigate impacts.
  • Encourage adaptive reuse and retrofitting of built heritage to maximise the potential of embodied energy, through policies, fiscal incentives, and sustainability awards.

3Cultural heritage conservation and management, community resilience, and climate action should be considered in a single framework.

  • Conduct interdisciplinary research to increase knowledge of climate and related factors impacting heritage sites, communities, and their environment, as well as to develop heritage-based climate adaption strategies. Combine humanities with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) approaches to achieve greater cross-disciplinary integration.
  • Promote collaboration, exchange, and cross-sectoral efforts locally, nationally and internationally, between heritage and non-heritage institutions, universities, organisations, climate scientists, and other actors concerned about climate change and its impacts, e.g. through the Climate Heritage Network.
  • Implement on the ground the principles and recommendations of the Policy on the Integration of a Sustainable Development Perspective into the Processes of the WH Convention, adopted by UNESCO in 2015.
  • Integrate climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies into heritage conservation and management plans.

03

🔑 Issues

  1. Climate change is having catastrophic impacts on both human and natural systems, including cultural and natural heritage. 

  2. Cultural heritage is a resource which can contribute to climate change mitigation.

  3. Communities that have made the smallest contribution to climate change in terms of their carbon footprint are often on the frontlines of its impact.

  4. Communities all around the world have shown a high capacity to adapt to climate change. Empathy, social cohesion, and traditional knowledge and practices are crucial aspects for the implementation of climate adaptive approaches and mitigation strategies. 

  5. Formal heritage management systems often relegate to a minor role traditional systems and Indigenous and local knowledge and practices that have potential as assets in addressing climate change.

  6. Combining human and science-based expertise and community practices is fundamental to promoting innovative heritage approaches and methodologies for tackling the impacts of climate change.

🔑 Challenges

  • CHANGING CLIMATE AND SEASONALITY
  • THREATS TO CULTURAL HERITAGE
  • BIODIVERSITY AND HABITAT LOSS
  • GLOBAL FOOD SYSTEM EMISSIONS
  • HUMAN DISPLACEMENT AND ANIMAL MIGRATION
  • UNSUSTAINABLE TOURISM
  • GLOBAL INEQUITIES

04

💼 Case Studies

1MILLET HERITAGES AND CLIMATE ADAPTATION FOR SUSTAINABLE FOOD FUTURES.

Understanding the relationship between food heritage, sustainable farming practices, and future food choices is a particularly crucial development issue facing humanity in the context of climate change. Using oral history, the Changing Farming Lives project documented how women small farmers in southern India maintain cultural heritage and traditional knowledge relating to millets so as to ensure food security and agricultural resilience in the face of a warming local climate. At the heart of these practices is their repeated seed-saving of heirloom, or heritage, finger millet varieties over generations. As a result, they acquire the knowledge that enables the selection of seeds from plants that are more resistant and adaptable to changing weather conditions. Farmers typically intercrop millets with legumes and pulses ensuring nutritional food diversity and the maintenance of local food culture and agro-ecological resilience.

Another important aspect of heritage is the farmers’ intimate knowledge of the 27 different rains established by ancient Indian astronomy, which they still use to forecast weather and to guide the sequence of their tilling and sowing activities. Moreover, farming ways of life remain nourished and sustained by wider systems of folk religious faith which represent another aspect of intangible heritage. Farming and food-centred activities typically blend the secular and the spiritual, involving rituals and performances that reach out to the divine as good crops and food provision are ultimately believed to be the consequences of divine blessing.

Dr Sandip Hazareesingh, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Open University (UK)

2SUPPORTING CLIMATE ACTION THROUGH ARTS, CULTURE AND HERITAGE IN AFRICA

Climate change is one of the most significant risks for UNESCO World Heritage properties worldwide, including many African heritage sites. For example, in Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara (Tanzania), the Indian Ocean sea level rise and increasingly intense storm activity are causing the loss of archaeological deposits and land, exacerbating other socio-economic and ecological stresses, including land management practices. Similarly, the Sukur Cultural Landscape (Nigeria) is threatened by changing rainfall patterns, windstorms and reduced vegetation cover which are impacting agricultural production and the availability of culturally important traditional building material. The African World Heritage Fund joined forces with Climate Heritage Network members and local partners and stakeholders to increase local capacity to adapt to these threats by testing the Climate Vulnerability Index (CVI) in Africa. This innovative approach aims to assess the physical and ecological risks due to the impacts of climate change on cultural heritage sites and the economic, social and cultural consequences for the sites and their associated communities. Remote learning techniques and hands-on workshops were developed in the above-mentioned WH properties to provide foundational training to African heritage professionals and address the gap that exists in understanding climate impacts on cultural heritage in Africa, while creating longer-term capacity within the African heritage community.

Dr Albino Jopela, Head of Programmes, African World Heritage Fund (AWHF)

3THE CLIMATE VULNERABILITY OF THE HEART OF NEOLITHIC ORKNEY.

The Heart of Neolithic Orkney (HONO) is a UNESCO World Heritage property comprising four Neolithic monuments on the Orkney island archipelago off northern Scotland. Together, the monuments bear testimony to a cultural tradition which flourished 5,000–4,000 years ago, including evidence for domestic life, ceremonial expression and death and burial. In 2019, thanks to the ICOMOS Climate Change and Heritage Working Group, the HONO management partners worked with James Cook University (Australia) and the Union of Concerned Scientists on the global cultural pilot of the Climate Vulnerability Index (CVI). A three-day workshop with a range of participants (50% based on Orkney) assessed the key climate drivers and their impact on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the site as well as the economic, social and cultural dependency of its associated community. The conclusions were that the site had a high vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, but that its community vulnerability was moderate, recognising the high adaptive capacity locally. The results of the workshop are feeding into the current revision of the site’s Management Plan. This will recognise that climate change mitigation and adaptation must be woven throughout the Plan, which will seek flexible delivery and be proactive rather than reactive. 

Alice Lyall, Deputy Head of World Heritage & Heart of Neolithic Orkney WH Site Coordinator; Dr Rebecca Jones, Head of Archaeology and World Heritage, Historic Environment Scotland (UK)

Contacts

UK National Commission for UNESCO
[email protected]

Prof Stuart Taberner, Dean for Interdisciplinary Research and Principal Investigator at PRAXIS, University of Leeds, UK
[email protected]

Authors

Dr Francesca Giliberto, PRAXIS’ Post-Doctoral Research Fellow on Heritage for Global Challenges, University of Leeds (UK); Helen Maclagan OBE, Former Vice-Chair and Non-Executive Director, UK National Commission for UNESCO.

Case Studies

Dr Sandip Hazareesingh, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Open University (UK); Dr Albino Jopela, Head of Programmes, African World Heritage Fund (AWHF); Alice Lyall, Deputy Head of World Heritage & Heart of Neolithic Orkney WH Site Coordinator; Dr Rebecca Jones, Head of Archaeology and World Heritage, Historic Environment Scotland (UK)

Production

Matilda Clark, Project Officer, UK National Commission for UNESCO; Matthew Rabagliati, Head of Policy, Research and Communications, UK National Commission for UNESCO.