The Heritage Sites Threatened By Climate Change

Discover the iconic sites around the world being destroyed by a changing environment

World Map, 5 heritage sitesCyArk

On every continent, climate change is impacting and destroying cultural heritage sites.

Embark on a global journey to five heritage sites under threat from climate change, with very different stories about risks, adaptation, and resilience.

The first stop.... Rapa Nui, Polynesia

Rapa Nui, the indigenous name for Easter Island, is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. It was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995.

Rapa Nui tourCyArk

Rapa Nui's heritage is important to the locals

"Heritage is an important part of our culture, it is a way of remembering our past. It is part of who we are." –  Merahi Etmu

Rapa Nui increased wave actionCyArk

However, this stunning island and its culture are in peril

As sea levels rise and storms get worse, the coast around Rapa Nui is undermined and coastal heritage like the iconic moai are being lost to the ocean. See the climate crisis in action.

World Map, 5 heritage sitesCyArk

Climate change is also an issue in the Peruvian desert...

Chan Chan was once the capital city of the Chimú civilization on the northern coast of Peru. Between the 9th and 15th centuries, the metropolis was the largest Pre-Columbian city in South America.

Chan Chan tourCyArk

Chan Chan's heritage is at the heart of their identity

"It is part of our identity, it is our roots from where we come from and it is our duty to preserve these things for our future generations to come. " – Manuel Medina, Pan American Center Engineer

Chan Chan infographic rainfallCyArk

But El Niño weather events are damaging the fragile site

Climate change affects local weather conditions with more extreme periods of rainfall, drought, and rising groundwater levels. This affects the structural stability of the building foundations creating dangerous microclimates when the buildings are covered. See the climate crisis in action.

World Map, 5 heritage sitesCyArk

In the Indian ocean, a historic port city is also at risk...

Described by a 14th-century traveler as "one of the most beautiful cities", Kilwa Kisiwani's coastal location became an important center of trade. The forts, palaces, and mosques that can be seen today show the important role it played in the region

Kilwa Kisiwani tourCyArk

Kilwa Kisiwani is part of local and national identity

“I think heritage is important to us because... it's what defines us... It's part of our identity. It's part of our surroundings, and it's what makes us who we are now.” – Neema Tesha, Architecture student, University of Dar Es Salaam

Kilwa Kisiwani infographic cliff erosionCyArk

Sadly, sea-level rise puts the coastal heritage site at risk

In recent decades, the escalation of sea-level rise and coastal erosion due to climate change exacerbated by local land-use practices has resulted in the loss of some structures and archaeological deposits. See the climate crisis in action.

World Map, 5 heritage sitesCyArk

Meanwhile, across the Indian Ocean in the Bay of Bengal..

Located just a few kilometers north of the wetlands known as the Sundarbans, the Historic Mosque City of Bagerhat, Bangladesh, is home to the remains of hundreds of finely made brick buildings.

Bagerhat tourCyArk

Bagerhat's mosques and domes are important to the locals

All these buildings here are not just tourist places, they have meaning to the people of Bagerhat, and the people of Bangladesh.” – Golam Fardoush, Custodian Bagerhat District Museum

Bagerhat Monument DecayCyArk

The buildings are decaying due to extreme salinity

As a low-lying site, when the sea-level rises, this increases the amount of salt water that seeps into the buildings. The evaporation of water leaves salt behind, causing the monuments to decay. See the climate crisis in action.

World Map, 5 heritage sitesCyArk

Our last stop is a capital city in Northern Europe...

Edinburgh has been the Scottish capital since the 15th century. Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1995, the Old and New Towns extend over 1.78 square miles and contain approximately 4,600 buildings.  

Edinburgh tourCyArk

Heritage is at the core of this vibrant city

“The historic environment in Scotland it's part of our DNA that tells us who we are, and where we've come from. And it's really important that we have all that around us.”  – Ewan Hyslop, Head of Technical Research and Science, Historic Environment Scotland

Edinburgh infographic increased rainfallCyArk

However, increasing rainfall is changing life in the city

The biggest climate related pressure to Edinburgh is extreme weather and increased rainfall. This puts heritage sites at risk of flooding and slope instability. See the climate crisis in action.

World Map, 5 heritage sitesCyArk

Looking to the future...

Around the globe, heritage professionals are working hard to adapt to the impacts and changes caused by climate change. It is increasingly important that our response is systemic and global.

Global action on carbon reduction is the only way to preserve these amazing cultures and places for future generations.

Discover more about our Heritage on the Edge.

Discover More

Discover how CyArk uses 3D documentation to empower local experts.

Find out more about ICOMOS' efforts to increase engagement of cultural heritage in climate action here.

Credits: Story


Professor Jane Downes, ICOMOS, and Archaeology Institute Director, University of the Highlands and Islands UK

Milagros Flores, ICOMOS and President, ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Fortifications and Military Heritage

Andrew Potts, ICOMOS Working Group on Cultural Heritage and Climate Change

Peter A Cox, ICOMOS, Managing Director, Carrig Conservation International Limited, and President, ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Energy, Sustainability and Climate Change

Dr William Megarry, ICOMOS, and Lecturer in Archaeology, School of Natural and Built Environment, Queen’s University Belfast

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.
Explore more
Google apps