Series: Heritage and Our Sustainable Future

Issue 11; 27th April 2021

The Heritage and Our Sustainable Future Series Summary

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.

The Heritage and Our Sustainable Future Series Summary

“Understanding and valuing heritage is integral to achieving the aims of international agreements, and to building more equal, inclusive and sustainable societies.”

James Ömer Bridge, Secretary-General and CEO, UK National Commission for UNESCO


Culture in general, and cultural heritage more particularly, permeates many aspects of daily life and is deeply interwoven with peoples and places. Its relevance as a driver for sustainable development has been widely recognised by many international cultural organisations. With support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the UK National Commission for UNESCO and PRAXIS at the University of Leeds hosted ‘Heritage and Our Sustainable Future: Research, Practice, Policy and Impact’, a virtual conference from 22nd February to 2nd March 2021. The conference brought together a diverse range of cultural heritage and sustainable development contributors, including policymakers, practitioners and researchers, but also non-governmental organisations, museums, private sector representatives, students, and other stakeholders from across the globe. 

The conference explored how best to apply cultural heritage research to drive forward the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially in Official Development Assistance (ODA)-eligible countries. There were 60 panellists, over 1500 registrations, and 10 days of discussions spanning climate change, mental health and well-being, disaster response, capacity building, people-centred approaches and impact evaluation. Each session involved 150-200 participants, including researchers, practitioners, and policy-innovators from 34 countries, who came together across sectors to connect and learn from each other, and promote positive change. Conference contributions covered different heritage aspects: the tangible and the intangible, the fixed and the movable, the physical and the virtual, the natural and the cultural, the formal and the informal, the official and the unofficial.

Building on previous work in this field, this conference constituted a milestone in our understanding of heritage itself, of heritage processes and practices, and of their contribution to the SDGs. The Heritage and Our Sustainable Future Series highlights key insights, issues and challenges from each conference session, and provides recommendations for research, policy and practice as well as concrete case studies. 

Key Insights

The following overarching insights emerged across multiple conference sessions, and are illuminated by key quotes from participants in the opening and concluding sessions to represent these critical concepts.

Put People at the Centre

“Culture is implicated in every facet of sustainable development. Because development is, above all, about people. It is about their needs, aspirations, and fundamental rights as human beings. If development is to be fair, inclusive, and truly sustainable, people and their cultures must be placed at its heart.”

Ernesto Ottone Ramirez, Assistant Director-General for Culture, UNESCO

No More Business as Usual

“Too often I feel that cultural heritage can find itself side-lined against seemingly competing interests, often economic, social, security or political demands. And it is therefore key that we demonstrate that cultural heritage is not in in competition with these areas, but can enhance and help.”

Lord Mendoza of King’s Reach, Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal, and Provost of Oriel College at Oxford University

Break Silos and Barriers

“I believe there is an increasing need for outsiders like me to probe and interfere, and for people who are specialists in cultural heritage to also look into other fields, especially those related to social and economic development, the environment, and even politics.”

Basma El Husseiny, Director, Action for Hope 

Holistic Frameworks

“We need concepts or frameworks that can bridge nature and culture and development, and move us towards more holistic thinking in research, in practice and in policy. There are many Indigenous concepts that are holistic, and that need to be better understood, recognised and supported to make these connections and move towards more integrated policies and practices.”

Krystyna Swiderska, Principal Researcher, International Institute for Environment and Development

Decolonise and De-centre Heritage

“Heritage projects are supposed to reflect local culture and knowledge. However, they are often driven by European agendas. We need to decolonize the topic of heritage for development. It should be at the centre of our work. And for that, we need to de-centre the creation of research and knowledge. We need to ensure the meaningful participation of people from the Global South in grant writing, and the establishment of mechanisms to ensure ethical responsibility and accountability in heritage practices.”

Prof Sophia Labadi, Professor in Heritage, University of Kent

Give Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities a Primary Role

“In the climate change space, there is a tremendous interest in Indigenous peoples, Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous cultures. Partially because they present an alternative model of consumption and production. From a cultural heritage perspective, probably one of the most useful things we can do is simply to support Indigenous peoples in their own activities, to support Indigenous land tenure, to support Indigenous stewardship of protected areas, and to take our lead from them.”

Andrew Potts, Coordinator, Climate Heritage Network Secretariat

Diversify Heritage Narratives

“We need to diversify the perspective of heritage. We have a lot of heritage narratives that are the mainstream narratives. We need to enlarge these perspectives, for example including a female point of view on heritage, and reflections from Indigenous communities, and also the LGBTQ community, which has always been forgotten in these conversations.”

Gabriel Caballero, ICOMOS Focal Point on the Sustainable Development Goals

“This is our way of living. We have occupied this territory for the past 9000 years. In those times, we knew how to develop our knowledge about this land. Some people call it science. Some other people say that it’s a natural way to know things. It is also a way to be equal, not to dominate, but to live with the rest of the living things on a territory and to follow the cycles as they do. This is the most important thing to know, to follow the cycle of life.”

Mr Richard Ejinagosi Kistabish, President of Minwashin 

The Heritage and Our Sustainable Future Series

  1. Biocultural Heritage and Landscapes: Linking Nature and Culture

  2. Bridging the Gaps: Cultural Heritage for Climate Action 

  3. Re-thinking Capacity Strengthening for Sustainable Development

  4. Reducing Inequalities and Decolonising Heritage Practices: People Centred Approaches

  5. Using Digital Technology to Innovate in Heritage Research, Policy and Practice

  6. Heritage, Mental Health and Well-Being

  7. Creative Industries and Tourism: Beyond Economic Development

  8. Heritage, Disaster Response and Resilience

  9. Inclusive Development for Sustainable Cities

  10. Evaluating the Impact of Cultural Heritage for Sustainable Development

To view the full reports, and for further reading, visit the Heritage and Our Sustainable Future website here.


UK National Commission for UNESCO
[email protected]

Prof Stuart Taberner, Director of the Horizons Institute and Principal Investigator at PRAXIS, University of Leeds, UK

[email protected]


PRAXIS, University of Leeds, UK: Dr Francesca Giliberto, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow on Heritage for Global Challenges; Dr Esther Dusabe-Richards, Research Fellow; Lauren Wray, Horizons Institute Manager; Prof Stuart Taberner, Director of the Horizons Institute, and Principal Investigator of PRAXIS.

UK National Commission for UNESCO: Helen Maclagan OBE, Former Vice-Chair and Non-Executive Director; Matilda Clark, Project Officer; James Bridge, Secretary-General and CEO; Matthew Rabagliati, Head of Policy, Research and Communications.