Climate change impacts on cultural heritage: Facing the challenge

The Initiative

Addressing climate change impacts on cultural and natural heritage 

Cultural and natural heritage is increasingly vulnerable to the adverse environmental and social effects of global climate change.

Τhe Greek Government, deeply concerned about this issue, organized an international Scientific Conference, in Athens (Zappeion, 21-22 June 2019), with the participation of more than 300 world-renowned scientists and state representatives from over 40 countries.

The Conference’s unanimously adopted Conclusions were subsequently circulated as an official document of the UN General Assembly. They also formed the basis of the Greek proposal “Addressing climate change impacts on cultural and natural heritage”, which was launched, with the supporting partnership of UNESCO and the World Meteorological Organization, during the UN Climate Action Summit (September 2019). 

The UN Secretary General, Mr. A. Guterres, has included the Greek initiative in his “Report on the 2019 Climate Action Summit and the Way Forward in 2020” (11 Dec 2019) among the most ambitious initiatives that were presented at the Climate Action Summit. The next steps as presented in the abovementioned report of this initiative encompass, inter alia, beyond outreach, the continuation of the work towards designing, developing and implementing plans and programs to help mitigate the effects of climate change on cultural and natural heritage, and boost their climate resilience.

Furthermore, the proposal was presented by Greece with the participation of UNESCO and the WMO, at a side event in the framework of UNFCCC COP25, in Madrid, in December 2019. In this event, the creation of a follow-up Flexible Mechanism was proposed. The Flexible Mechanism is composed of representatives from Greece, UNESCO, UNFCCC and WMO.

The overarching goal of the Flexible Mechanism is to bridge scientific knowledge and develop climate mitigation and adaptation tools with informed decision making by the interested States, in order to facilitate and enhance their efforts, in a coordinated manner, towards the effective protection of cultural and natural heritage from the impacts of the climate crisis. In addition, it is aiming at ensuring the collection and exchange of best practices and other information related to the threats that the cultural heritage faces due to climate change (threat index). The Mechanism will also enhance the implementation of the proposed actions and commitments by promoting, among others, the relevant research, the improvement of the quality of critical information, incorporating local and indigenous knowledge, the education and awareness raising actions, the creation of repositories of best practices and the design and development of projects/programs, at both global and local levels.

A number of NGOs and organisations have also embraced the Greek Initiative at UN level (ICOMOS, SDSN, Europa Nostra, GEO, Council of Europe, World Human Forum, etc.) and so far, more than 100 UN member states are committed to the Initiative and support its actions.