Climate change impacts on cultural heritage: Facing the challenge


On the 4th of December 2023, at the Greek Pavilion of the COP28 held in Dubai, the Greek Initiative’s Flexible Mechanism organised an important event, entitled “The Greek Initiative at UN level on protecting cultural and natural heritage from climate change impacts: state of play and follow up”. Under the guidance of Mr. George Kremlis, Chairman of the Flexible Mechanism of the Greek Initiative, the event unfolded as a platform for in-depth discussions on the critical intersection of climate change and the preservation of cultural and natural heritage.

Mr. George Kremlis set the tone by welcoming distinguished speakers and attendees, highlighting, among others, the vulnerability of island states and coastal regions to rising sea levels. He emphasized the pressing need for robust mitigation measures and enhanced resilience strategies in the face of climate change. During the event, Mr. Kremlis conveyed a message from Mrs. Mariya Gabriel, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria. Mrs. Gabriel highlighted the transformative potential of cultural heritage in reshaping our economic model towards a greener, sustainable, and climate-resilient society. She stressed the importance of a common strategy, advocating for the integration of cultural heritage considerations in the fight against climate change, called for the inclusion of cultural heritage in mainstream policies and urged investment in new forms of climate neutral development.

Professor Zerefos, Secretary General of the Academy of Athens, delved into the detailed findings of an analysis developed by the Academy of Athens, offering a time-dependent analysis of threats from man-made climate change at 244 UNESCO sites in the Mediterranean. He stressed the imperative of safeguarding these sites, which serve as crucial links to our past.

Dr. Petros Varelidis, Secretary General of Natural Environment and Waters from the Ministry of Environment and Energy, discussed the human factor in climate change, pointing out the tangible impacts on critical infrastructure and the world’s cultural treasures. He underscored the economic ramifications on tourism due to damage inflicted on monuments.

Mr. Kurt Vandenberghe, Director-General of DG CLIMA in the European Commission, shared insights on the alarming global warming trends, particularly in Europe. He highlighted the significance of integrating cultural heritage into broader climate mitigation and adaptation strategies, urging states to develop effective policies.

Dr. Jyoti Hosagrahar, Deputy Director of the World Heritage Centre of UNESCO, provided stark statistics on the threats faced by UNESCO heritage sites due to climate change. She discussed UNESCO’s initiatives, including policy updates and the creation of a platform for innovative practices to enhance heritage resilience.

Mrs. Ina Lambert, Programme Officer of the Adaptation Division of UNFCCC, explored UNFCCC’s work, focusing on the protection of cultural value systems. She detailed the newly established Santiago Network and the Loss and Damage Fund, emphasizing support for developing countries facing climate change impacts.

Dr. Juerg Luterbacher, Director of Science and Innovation in the World Meteorological Organisation, analyzed WMO’s role in providing weather and climate information for heritage resilience. He discussed the importance of scientific expertise, advocacy, and collaborative partnerships in safeguarding cultural assets.

Prof. Constantinos Kartalis, Chairman of the working group on Climate Change and Cultural Heritage in the Greek Ministry of Culture & Sports, presented the Ministry’s initiatives, including vulnerability assessments and adaptation plans tailored to specific sites. He emphasized the need for site-based analyses to address the varying climate vulnerability of different locations.

Mrs. Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailovic, Secretary General of Europa Nostra, acknowledged the negative impact of climate change on cultural heritage and highlighted the Global Call for a Culture-Based Climate Action. She detailed the transformative role of culture and art heritage in climate policy planning.

Mr. Antonio Jesús Antequera Delgado, Technician of the Ministry of Culture of Spain, informed about Spain’s sustainable approach to cultural heritage management, detailing the Green Paper and a protocol for implementing renewable energies in cultural assets.

Mr. Gabriel Essack, Technical Advisor in the Seychelles National Institute for Culture, reported on Seychelles’ comprehensive mitigation measures in response to climate change impacts on its cultural heritage. He highlighted the multifaceted threat posed by climate change on Seychelles’ cultural heritage.

Dr. Anthi Kaldeli, Archaeological Officer in the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus, discussed Cyprus’ initiatives, including a task force on cultural heritage of the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, collaboration with the Greek initiative, and synergies with other governmental departments and academic institutions to monitor and address climate-related dangers.

Mr. Carlo Buontempo, Director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, discussed the extreme weather phenomena of 2023 and emphasised the role of knowledge and data in making informed decisions. He acknowledged the Greek initiative’s crucial contribution.

Dr. Evangelos Gerasopoulos, Director of the Institute for Environmental Research and Sustainable Development at the National Observatory of Athens, presented findings from the ongoing Evaluation of the Flexible Mechanism’s Questionnaire. With 31 participating countries proposing 141 priority sites for climate change preservation, the survey highlighted a significant emphasis on cultural heritage (64%) over natural heritage (20%), with nearly half of the sites not UNESCO-listed. Dr. Gerasopoulos stressed the need for training, sharing best practices, and integration into policies. Despite 97% of the participating countries acknowledge National Climate Change Adaptation Frameworks, only 60% addressed natural heritage. He also highlighted the “Urban Heritage Climate Observatory,” a collaborative initiative with UNESCO. Details can be found here.

The event not only showcased a collective commitment to safeguarding cultural and natural heritage but also provided nuanced insights from experts across various domains. The Greek Initiative emerged as a driving force for positive change, fostering international cooperation and raising awareness for the preservation of our shared cultural and natural treasures.