Climate change impacts on cultural heritage: Facing the challenge

Press release of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic

Press release of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic on the presentation of the Greek proposal “Addressing climate change impacts on cultural and natural heritage”

Greece leads the way on protection of cultural heritage from the impacts of climate change – A Greek initiative at UN headquarters

In the framework of the UN Climate Action Summit in New York, Greece made a significant contribution to the international dialogue on confronting climate change. Specifically, on 21 September, at a pre-Summit event at UN headquarters, Greece presented its proposal for the protection of cultural heritage from the impacts of climate change (Cultural Heritage Partnership to Enable Ambitious Climate Action-Addressing the Impacts of Climate Change on Cultural and Natural Heritage). This set of specific actions is in line with the goals and commitments of the Paris Agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the UN, and the recommendations of UNESCO.

With the participation of the Ministers of Education and Culture, Niki Kerameus and Lina Medoni, respectively, and the Secretary General of the Ministry of Environment, Professor K. Aravossis, with the full support of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who highlighted the issue during the UN Climate Action Summit on 23 September, the Greek proposal was enthusiastically accepted by the competent International Organizations and by a significant number of UN member-states.

Τhe Greek government officials were joined in presenting the proposal by the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization, Professor P. Taalas, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Sciences, Dr Shamila Nair-Bedouelle, Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, SDG Advocate of the UN Secretary-General, Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Coordinator of the ICOMOS Climate Change and Heritage Working Group, Mr Andrew Potts and Professor Paolo Vitti, Board Member of Europa Nostra.

The presentation covered all aspects of the impacts of climate change on cultural heritage and the numerous ways it impacts not only monuments of world cultural heritage, but also our economic and social activities. Highlighting issues such as the impact of unstable weather conditions on economic growth and prosperity, Greece reminded the international community that culture is a network of actions, achievements and activities that are currently in a fragile equilibrium. The international community needs to work together to preserve our tangible and intangible cultural assets, as well as the natural environment, which is vital to preserving the identity and uniqueness of peoples and to the sustainable development of humankind itself.

Specifically, the Greek proposal, with the supporting partnership of UNESCO and the World Meteorological Organisation is already officially supported by more than 40 countries, including inter alia France, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Spain, the United Kingdom, Cyprus, Armenia, Egypt, Jordan, China, Nicaragua, Mexico, Peru, with many other countries also expressing a desire to participate in the steps to follow. Referring to International Organizations, the Council of Europe also  announced its support to the Greek intiative.

This initiative founded not only on Greece sensitivity regarding  the protection of the world’s cultural heritage, but also on the expertise that has to be offered in this field, the use of new technologies . Greece is bringing attention to the vital aspect of the impacts of climate change on cultural heritage and the urgent need to take measures to protect monuments and sites, tangible and intangible heritage, as well as the natural environment that is home to our culture.

To this end, on 21 and 22 June, Greece successfully held the scientific part of the International Conference on “Climate Change Impacts on Cultural Heritage – Facing the Challenge”, with the participation of 288 representatives from over 43 countries. The unanimously adopted Conclusions of the Conference, which were also distributed as an official document of the UN General Assembly, formed the basis of the proposal Greece submitted to the UN. The Prime Minister also announced that, in 2020, in Athens, a High Level Meeting, with the participation of Heads of State/ Government and International Organisations, distinguished academics and personalities for an exchange of ideas and proposals on how to best ensure the preservation of the world cultural heritage. A Declaration will be adopted, in an Official Ceremony, to be held at a unique archaeological site of Athens

The aim of this Greek initiative is, more specifically, the development of effective measures and the creation of international and national mechanisms that deter the further spread of climate change impacts. During the event, there was a discussion on the special role of education, which is critical to preventing and, in the long term, halting the phenomenon. Also stressed was the urgent need to adopt specific actions on the state level, through inclusion of cultural heritage in national adaptation plans, and intensification of efforts to deal with, climate change. To facilitate international cooperation, a working group of scientists and representatives of International Organisations will be established, with its first meeting potentially taking place in Greece, next year.

The strong support for the Greek proposal is indicative of the high level of the endeavour, the global character of the initiative and Greece’s will and ability to undertake international actions, capitalising on its comparative cultural advantages and adept scientific community and demonstrating sensitivity and a sense of responsibility in the face of a phenomenon that threatens humanity as a whole.