Climate change impacts on cultural heritage: Facing the challenge

Summary Report on the pre-Climate Action Summit event ” Cultural Heritage Partnership to enable ambitious climate action “

Summary Report  on the pre-Climate Action Summit event “ Cultural Heritage Partnership to enable ambitious climate action “

Pre-Summit Event on addressing climate change impacts on cultural and natural heritage, UNHQ, September 21st, 2019


On 21 September 2019, in the framework of the Social and Political Drivers Coalition led by the governments of Peru and Spain,  Greece together with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), in collaboration with the Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit team, UN SDSN,  ICOMOS and  Europa Nostra  organized at the UN Headquarters a Climate Action pre-Summit Event entitled “Cultural Heritage Partnership to Enable Ambitious Climate Action”.

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 states in order to support adaptation and resilience of cultural and natural heritage to climate change actions.

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

In accordance with the agenda of the Event, the relevant presentations were to be elaborated under the following three thematics:

1) Climate change impact on cultural and natural heritage 2) Cultural and natural heritage protection and 3) Partnership to support cultural heritage adaptation to climate change in countries.

The pre-Summit Event was moderated by the Coordinator of the ICOMOS Climate Change and Heritage Working Group.

The opening  remarks were made by the Minister of Culture of the Hellenic Republic who made a presentation on “Tackling Climate Change Impacts on Heritage: a Global Challenge Calling for Local Action”.

Under the first thematic, presentations were made by the Secretary General of WMO,  the Minister of Education of the Hellenic Republic, the Secretary General for Natural Environment at the Hellenic Ministry of Environment and the Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and SDG Advocate of the UN Secretary General. All presentations focused, among other things, on how the climate change and the extreme weather events have the potential to significantly damage cultural and natural heritage.

Under the second thematic, presentations were made by the Assistant Director General for Sciences at UNESCO and representatives of Europa Nostra and ICOMOS.  The main focus under this thematic was on ongoing actions and strategies for the protection of cultural and natural heritage from climate change impacts.

Following the second thematic the Moderator opened the floor for interventions by interested States. In this context, the State Secretary in the Ministry of Environment of Poland and President of COP24 addressed the Event by praising the added value of the initiative on the protection of cultural and natural heritage from the impact of Climate Change. Interventions were also made by the Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment of Cyprus, the Minister for National Policies of the Presidency of the Republic of Nicaragua. All interventions underlined the importance of the interconnection of climate change and cultural heritage, while at the same time stressing the need to taking relevant action accordingly.

Due to the length of the discussion, the third thematic was limited to only one intervention made by the special Advisor to the Greek Minister of Culture and Bureau member of SBI-UNFCCC, who, among others, stressed the need for adopting specific plans and actions, at the national level.

At the end of the Event, the Special Envoy for the 2019 Climate Summit made his concluding remarks and praised the Greek initiative in the context of the Climate Summit. He further called all states and relevant stakeholders to accelerate action that would lead to constructive results.

The  key elements identified in the course of the pre-Summit Event can be summarized as follows:

  • Climate change has the capacity of not only undermining the integrity of moveable and immoveable 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.
  • Further work on the issue is needed; in this context, the creation of a high-level interdisciplinary working group was proposed, with the participation of representatives from UNFCCC, UNESCO, IPCC, UN SDN, WMO and ICOMOS and other relevant stakeholders, with its 1st meeting being hosted by Greece. In addition, the organization of an international summer school on the matter was announced, with its first assembly to take place in September 2020 in Greece to be hosted in a different region/country each year.

In concluding, it has to be noted that all participants stressed  the need for capacity building on the matter and warmly welcomed the Greek initiative, which counts as of today 38 supporting states (see annex in attachment).