A Time for Action in Cultural Heritage Conservation

From the Antarctic to Indonesia, IIC is helping to pioneer knowledge, promote access to learning and empower a new generation of conservators worldwide to act on climate change.

By United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (IIC)

Cultural heritage conservation and environmental sustainability are deeply entwined

Moss and lichen on stone (2020) by Saiful Bakhri, IIC MemberUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

From wildfires to floods – or through slow, insidious environmental changes like insect incursions and mould, our changing climate can put historic and artistic works at risk and undermine sites that have stood for centuries or millennia in an instant.

But our cultural inheritance also gives a love of place and heritage that spurs people to action

Conservators have a crucial part to play in the intersect between science, art, environment and community.

Conservation of the Archaeological Site of Dangeil, Sudan, and Its Associated Collections (2019) by Francesca Guiducci/ Berber-Abidiya Archaeological ProjectUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

Conservation of the Archaeological Site of Dangeil, Sudan, and Its Associated Collections, Francesca Guiducci/ Berber-Abidiya Archaeological Project, 2019, From the collection of: UK Government

A challenge that calls us to act internationally

We know that the climate challenges for conservators this century are likely to increase.

A challenge that calls us to act internationally (2020) by ECRA Art CareUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

The scale of the damage to environment, society and cultural heritage depends on how fast we can act – which includes sharing knowledge and resources on a global scale.

Here’s IIC’s story and the stories of conservators

Explore how we drew inspiration from the past and looked to the future to support climate emergency planning, with conservators from every part of the world.

Conservation students in the lab at the University of Glasgow (2019) by Kelvin Centre for Conservation and Cultural Heritage Research, University of GlasgowUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

Conservation students in the lab at the University of Glasgow, Kelvin Centre for Conservation and Cultural Heritage Research, University of Glasgow, 2019, From the collection of: UK Government

From the ruins of war – to the climate emergency (2016) by irisphoto2United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

From the ruins of war – to the climate emergency

IIC is the oldest international art conservation organisation. We come to the climate crisis inspired by the example of past conservators. Our founders in 1950 were some of the Monuments Men and pioneering women who did much to preserve art on the ruins of Europe after WWII.

Damaged books in Venice (2014) by JovannigUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

In more recent times, we have faced emergencies from floods

In the light of this experience, what action are we taking today?

Today’s cultural conservation leaders unite with a new sense of urgency

Three of the leading international bodies in cultural heritage conservation have agreed to work together to address the climate emergency. In their joint statement IIC, ICCROM and ICOM-CC say:

it is both our duty and our passion to advocate for cultural heritage. We recognise that the climate crisis represents one of the greatest threats to that heritage in a world with depleting natural resources, growing inequality and social injustice. In response to these challenges, it is incumbent on all of us to adapt, innovate and pioneer change.

Joint commitment for climate action (goes in with, or immediately after green rice paper image (2021) by IIC, ICCROM, and ICOM-CCUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

Joint Commitment for Climate Action

Collective intelligence: empowering a global network of emerging conservators

We are also helping to give a voice to the youngest professionals in our network, ensuring that global inequalities are no barrier to being heard or to accessing knowledge.

Through a 24-hour edit-a-thon during COP26, hundreds of students across every continent will be editing the world’s largest encyclopaedia Wikipedia for environmental sustainability and conservation.

Collective intelligence: empowering a global network of emerging conservators (2018) by Isa Von Lenthe, IIC MemberUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

It will also begin to shape steps to solving the hardest questions – how can we preserve cultural heritage while getting our own carbon footprint to zero?

How does this play out on the ground?

How does this play out on the ground? (2019) by Francesca Guiducci/Berber-Abidiya Archaeological ProjectUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

Conservators and colleagues in every corner of the world are well placed to see climate change unfolding in real time. 

Many are already working in extreme environments, likely to become more volatile in coming years.

Finding Sustainability in the desert

Francesca Guiducci is one of the conservators working at the archaeological site of Dangeil, Sudan, facing the challenges of a remote location, extreme weather including heat and a ‘brief but violent’ rainy season – and the fragility of the Late Kushite site.

Conservation of the Archaeological Site of Dangeil, Sudan (2019) by Francesca Guiducci/Berber-Abidiya Archaeological ProjectUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

The team has found sustainability in the desert, using local materials and the powerful knowledge of local communities to preserve the site long-term.

Being decisive is vital in the face of impossible choices…

… and learning helps to create future resilience (2004) by Rebecca Kennedy, IIC MemberUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

Being decisive is vital in the face of impossible choices…
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Rebecca Kennedy

We also know that there will be situations where heritage professionals will face hard decisions when they cannot save everything, as happened to Rebecca Kennedy, Collections Manager in an art institution when six hurricanes hit Florida in quick succession in 2004.

… and learning helps to create future resilience

Rebecca's story is also one of resilience and learning from disaster – since 2004, cultural institutions in the state have worked more closely together, and Rebecca herself became a disaster recovery specialist and part of the Smithsonian Institution's Preparedness and Response in Collections Emergencies Working Group.

She believes that everyone working at heritage sites, with every job description, has a role to play in disaster recovery.

… and learning helps to create future resilience, Rebecca Kennedy, IIC Member, 2004, From the collection of: United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26
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New technologies using local resources

In Indonesia, a constant humidity of 70 – 90 percent and encroaching development mean the country’s cultural heritage is critically threatened by unrelenting development as well as biodeterioration, with mosses and lichens capable of causing severe damage.

New technologies using local resources (2020) by Saiful Bakhri, IIC MeberUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

Saiful Bakhri, a conservator at Bali Cultural Heritage Preservation Office is a true sustainability actor in the profession, enabling practice by using natural preparations, such as citronella as a fungicide, and local tools to preserve heritage affordably and locally.

IIC Net Zero (2006) by Julian Bickersteth, IIC PresidentUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

Climate Leadership

IIC is committed to making sustainability a feature of every part of our programmes – from our hybrid conferences to our leadership programmes aimed to support a new generation to act with decisiveness, expertise and resilience to the challenges to come.

Credits: Story

Thanks to Julian Bickersteth, Saiful Bakhri, Francesca Guiducci and the Berber-Abidiya Archaeological Project, ECRA Art Care, Kelvin Centre for Conservation and Cultural Heritage Research, University of Glasgow, Isa Von Lenthe and Rebecca Kennedy for generously sharing photos and film for this project.

The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.

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International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works
www.iiconservation.org 



The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views and opinions of the UN Climate Change Conference COP26. The mere appearance of the story on this website does not constitute an endorsement by the UN Climate Change Conference COP26. The UN Climate Change Conference COP26 does not make any representation or warranties with respect to the accuracy, applicability, fitness or completeness of third party material included in the story featured.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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