Climate change impacts on cultural heritage: Facing the challenge

Side Event to UNFCCC COP25 on addressing climate change impacts on cultural and natural heritage: the Day After

Side Event to UNFCCC COP25 on addressing climate change impacts on cultural and natural heritage: the Day After

December 10, 2019 – Madrid, Spain


 Greece, together with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and in collaboration with UN SDSN and ICOMOS, organized on 10 December 2019, in the course of UNFCCC COP25, a side Event entitled “Climate Change Impacts on Cultural and Natural Heritage: The Day After” in order to encourage global action on the issue.

The side Event was attended by representatives of several States at the level of Ministers, diplomats, climate experts as well as by representatives of multilateral international institutions, international non-governmental organizations, academia, civil society and youth.

The speakers participated at the side Event, moderated by Mr. Andrew Potts, Co-chair, ICOMOS, were the followings:

  • The Secretary General of WMO, Professor Petteri Taalas,
  • The Minister of Environment of Greece, Mr. Kostis Hatzidakis
  • The Minister of Culture of Greece, Dr. Lina Mendoni,
  • The Minister of Environment of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Dr. Yasmine Fouad,
  • The Cultural Policies and Development Director of UNESCO, Μ P. Leoncini-Bartoli,
  • The Head of the New York SDSN Office, Dr. Emma Torres,
  • Professor Constantinos Cartalis, Special Advisor to the Minister of Culture and Sports and Coordinator of the Group on Climate Change and Cultural Heritage,
  • Professor Christos Zerefos, State Representative of Greece on Climate Change.


The principal aim of the Event was to highlight the importance of protecting cultural and natural heritage from climate change impact and raise awareness, through the relevant presentations and subsequent discussions, on potential actions to be undertaken by both states and international organizations, in order to support mitigation and adaptation actions as well as enhance resilience of cultural and natural heritage to climate change. During the presentations, concrete actions, such as the creation of a high level interdisciplinary group and the organization of an international summer school for policy makers as well as policies, such as development of adaptation plans for monuments and sites, elaboration of national archive of monuments and enhancement of capacity building have been proposed by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture.

As the Event took place in the aftermath of the respective successful pre-Summit Event of September 21, 2019 held in the context of the United Nations Climate Action Summit 2019 at New York, it focused especially on the “day after”. The Event aimed also to share the views of Greece on the way forward of the proposal presented in the Climate Summit.

The key elements that have been identified during the side Event by the speakers can be summarized as follows:

  • Climate change has the capacity of not only undermining the integrity of monuments and places, but also of destroying the intangible heritage of communities living in the affected areas, since it severely impacts their overall social and economic activity.
  • Education is of key importance for the protection of cultural heritage from climate change because, apart from awareness raising, it can create the conditions for tackling climate change by equipping the youth with cutting edge technology, science, skill and ethos.
  • The issue of cultural heritage should be strongly enhanced in the National Adaptation Plans of member states.

The State Representative of Greece on Climate Change, launched the idea of creating a flexible follow-up mechanism with the participation of representatives from UN Member States, UNESCO, WMO and UNFCCC. This mechanism will be supported by a Secretariat that Greece could host in Athens, while its functional expenses might be covered by private and public sources, as appropriate.  In this context a draft organogramme of the flexible mechanism has been presented.

This idea is based on the necessity to put together actions on a global scale and to take advantage from the expertise of UNESCO on cultural heritage protection, in collaboration with WMO, which has the world expertise on all important meteorological and hydrological events.

In the framework of COP 25, at the Summit organized by Spain the Prime Minister of Greece, reaffirmed that a High level Meeting on the issue will be held in Athens in 2020 and referring to the importance of the subject, stressed that “ Climate change affects not just our coasts and forests but also our unique cultural heritage.  And while trees can be replanted, the loss of our cultural heritage is irreplaceable”.