Climate change impacts on cultural heritage: Facing the challenge

Dr. Shamila Nair-Bedouelle

Shamila Nair-Bedouelle, Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences of UNESCO

Climate change represents one of the greatest threats facing humanity’s cultural heritage today. Cultural and natural heritage are increasingly at risk from the physical consequences of climate change, from growing fires, floods, droughts and desertification, to coral bleaching and rising sea levels. Climate change is also resulting in the displacement of peoples, contributing to the loss of intangible cultural heritage practices and traditional knowledge. Based on its longstanding experience in measuring and monitoring the impact of a wide range of threats on heritage, including climate change, UNESCO believes that cultural heritage must be safeguarded not only for its inherent value, but also for the key role it plays in climate change mitigation. Both tangible and intangible cultural heritage are important for building the resilience of communities and saving lives and property from the effects of climate change. Yet despite its crucial role in mitigating climate change impacts, cultural and natural heritage is not systematically integrated into the work of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or the Paris Agreement. That is why UNESCO is calling on Member States to commit to mainstreaming the protection of cultural and natural heritage into their climate change policies and processes, building on UNESCO’s current initiatives in this field, as well as its existing monitoring mechanisms, policies and recommendations. By joining the safeguarding of heritage with efforts to combat climate change, UNESCO believes that both causes can be strengthened.