Climate change impacts on cultural heritage: Facing the challenge

Giorgos Katrougalos

Welcome Speech by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Giorgos Katrougalos during commencement of the work of the international Conference on “The Impacts of Climate Change on Cultural Heritage” (Athens, 21 June 2019)

Friday, 21 June 2019

Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen, you have already heard from my friend, Markos Bolaris. Before saying a few words to you, I will read the welcome speech for our international Conference by the President of the Republic.

“I am especially pleased that Greece, which possesses a huge reserve of cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, took the initiative and convened, in June 2019, the International Conference on “The impacts of Climate Change on cultural heritage.”
The goal of the Conference is to continue the efforts that have already been undertaken by the international Community, with an aim to tackle this pressing global issue.

Since the end of the 19th century, and especially during the 20th, it became clear that the climate is not only changing due to long-term natural changes, but also due to man’s intervention as a result of the greenhouse effect, a rise in the levels of carbon dioxide which is caused by human activity has led to a rise in our planet’s temperature resulting in anthropogenic destabilisation of the climate.

According to the most distinguished scientists, there is no doubt that an increase in extreme weather conditions is observed today, such as the unprecedented high temperatures and forest fires like those which occurred last year in Canada, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Greece.

Unfortunately, our cultural heritage does not remain unscathed by the adverse effects of climate change. As is demonstrated by the latest reports of the intergovernmental panel on climate change, if we fail to act immediately, the damage caused to the integrity of especially significant world monuments can become irreversible.

And in light of the upcoming Climate Action Summit in September 2019, the Athens Conference seeks to send a strong message and to raise public awareness in order to encourage the undertaking of effective action, on a global level, to tackle the problem.
At the same time, the Conference is an excellent opportunity to form a framework of sustainable solutions for recording the damage, as well as for the protection of world cultural heritage, especially through the use of innovative technologies, the exchange of best practices, and the promotion of cooperation among various organisations.

Climate change represents a major global challenge. We still have time to take action – the faster the better.

As you realise, dear friends, ladies and gentlemen, this welcome speech by the President of the Republic allows me to also be brief, because he has identified the main messages. Let me tell you, for my part, that it is clear that a model for economic growth based solely on expanding the economy, without taking into account the effects on the planet, has demonstrated its limitations long ago.

And in light of this situation, it is clear that we have already delayed in taking the necessary measures. The issue has multiple dimensions, not just technological ones, but mainly social and economic ones, and is closely related also to the need for respecting multilateral institutions, international global order. We took a step with the Paris Agreement on climate change. But nonetheless, this agreement is being challenged today. One of the main duties of each country is for it to keep its commitment arising from this international agreement alive.

But it is not just the future of the planet that is being threatened, that of our children, as well as our own, but the past is also being threatened, because the effects of climate change pose a direct threat to cultural monuments, to humanity’s heritage.

You know that precisely because our country represents one of the most ancient civilisations, it has attempted to place this need on the international stage, so that we can protect world cultural heritage. As you are likely aware, Greece has played a leading role in creating a new forum for discussion, the Ancient Civilisations Forum, in which the representatives of countries with a traditional cultural heritage meet to discuss not just issues that pertain exclusively to their own civilisation, but such major issues.

And clearly our country supports the United Nations and its sustainable development goals. In this context, I feel that today’s meeting is but the first step in the systematic and scientific preparation of all the issues in light of the large Conference that the UN Secretary General has convened in September.

Our country shall continue to lead the way also in the phase of scientific as well as cultural preparation of all these significant goals. We shall undertake initiatives also in the context of the UN General Assembly.

In closing, I would like to thank the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Markos Bolaris, for the systematic work that made planning of today’s Conference possible, as well as the Services of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Loupa who worked towards this end, as well as my friends, the co-competent Ministers, Mr. Fotakis and Mr. Famelos, without whose collaboration today’s event could not have taken place.

I wish every success to the work of today’s Conference, and I again call upon you to make a commitment for our planet’s future.

Thank you very much.

source: MFA