World Heritage and Climate Action

Former UNESCO World Heritage Director, Francesco Bandarin, issues a call to action

By Google Arts & Culture

A ground view of a church in the monastery by CyArkCyArk

Francesco Bandarin spent ten years as Director at UNESCO World Heritage Centre, and is now Special Advisor at ICCROM, an intergovernmental organization committed to the preservation of world heritage. Here, he outlines the risks posed to global cultures by climate change, and issues a worldwide call to action. This is a collective responsibility.

Hurricane Odile (2017-12-08)NASA

Climate change is the most serious threat to our world. Global warming today is having significant measurable impacts on average temperatures, with consequences like the increase of sea levels, prolonged droughts, extreme weather events, and alteration of the condition of plant and animal life. 

The deforestation processes, the contamination of the oceans and of the earth, the release of greenhouse gasses from unsustainable urban, industrial, and agricultural activities are accelerating impacts that were previously forecast for a more distant future. Should the present trends continue, in a few years the world could be shattered by a chain of catastrophic events, with unpredictable social, economic, and political impacts.

Great Barrier Reef, Australia (1954) by Fritz GoroLIFE Photo Collection

The public today is well aware of the risks linked to climate change on World Natural Heritage properties, as several cases have been documented and publicised.

The massive collapse of the corals of the Great barrier reef in Australia...

...the increased flooding of the Sundarbans in India and Bangladesh...

Ilulissat Isfjord, Greenland (2007-08-24/2007-08-24) by James BalogU.S. Embassy in Switzerland and Lichtenstein

...the melting of the Ilulissat (Jakobshavn) Glacier in Greenland...

...these are just a few examples of what should be seen as a major threat to the preservation of natural environments of global significance.

Bagan Aerial Overview by CyArkCyArk

But World Cultural Heritage sites are also suffering from the impacts of climate change. In countless situations, cultural heritage sites are experiencing direct impacts and increasing stresses due to the high frequency of storms, coastal erosion, desertification and the emergence of other phenomena directly or indirectly affecting the conservation of fragile built environments, such as the modification in precipitation regimes or increased soil temperatures.

Climate change can also impact the stability of local societies. It can force communities to change their lifestyle, migrate, and abandon their traditional habitat and heritage. 

CyArk documents Ayutthaya with drone by CyArkCyArk

The time has come to act to protect cultural heritage sites from damage brought about by climate change, in order to preserve their values and ensure their transmission to future generations.

 In recent years, the issue of climate change and the protection of heritage form its impacts has been brought to the forefront of the work of the World Heritage Committee, that has adopted several recommendations aiming to mobilize global climate action on the ground.

Standing on Top of the Domes in Bagerhat (2019-05) by CyArkCyArk

In this framework, the Heritage on the Edge project can play an important role in developing capacities, in testing methodologies and policies, and in assessing the effectiveness of local responses to the risks induced by climate change.

Preserving our endangered cultural heritage should not be seen as a challenge for specialists alone. It is a collective responsibility that reflects core values of contemporary societies, reflected by the mobilisation of financial and technical resources, by the development of heritage conservation policies and by the support provided to heritage in danger by governments, private organisations, NGOs, and by the public.

Setting Up a Drone in Front of Ahu Nau Nau in Rapa Nui (2019-01) by CyArkCyArk

The experience gained through the implementation of this Program will benefit many other sites, as it will guide managers in implementing capacity building programs, in developing technical support activities and in building networks of exchange with the greater global heritage community.

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