Climate change impacts on cultural heritage: Facing the challenge

The proposal of Greece on the pre Summit event: “Addressing climate change impacts on cultural and natural heritage “

The proposal of Greece on the pre Summit event: Addressing climate change impacts on cultural and natural heritage “


Coalition #2: Social and Political Drivers

Addressing climate change impacts on cultural and natural heritage

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

Floods, fires, declines in glaciers, the melting of the ice cap, droughts, ocean acidification, extreme weather events and the long-term impact of adverse climate conditions have the potential to significantly damage cultural and natural heritage sites and intangible cultural heritage practices and expressions, Rising sea levels in particular threaten numerous coastal sites and their related cultural practices, while the increased migration of pests can also have an adverse impact on the conservation of some heritage sites.

Climate change may have dire consequences not only with respect to monuments’ physical form and structure, but also with respect to their overall meaningful context, which is essential for their perception, interpretation and understanding. The latter are often subtle, gradual and can go undetected in the early stages.  Thus, adapting to climate change presents a major challenge for their continued preservation and sustainable management. The task is even greater in the case of World Heritage Properties.

In addition to physical damage, climate change will also have a tremendous social and economic impact on heritage in all its forms, with effects ranging from the disruption of the governance of the cultural sector, to the looting and trafficking of cultural objects, and the displacement of people, resulting in the disruption of the transmission of intangible cultural heritage and the loss of traditional knowledge and practices. Lost economic opportunities in the cultural and creative industries and cultural tourism are another consequence of climate change. More generally, climate change will disrupt the lives of communities across the globe, limiting their ability to access and benefit from their cultural resources and practices.

There is now a growing appreciation of the dual role of culture in climate change mitigation – on the one hand, as a key consideration in risk prevention, and, on the other, as a contributing factor in enhancing resilience. In terms of the latter, both tangible and intangible cultural heritage are increasingly being recognized for the proactive role they play in building the resilience of communities and saving lives and properties from the effects of climate change.

Despite its important role in mitigating climate change impacts, cultural heritage is not systematically integrated in global climate change mitigation processes — including the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, which only refers to “traditional knowledge, knowledge of indigenous peoples and local knowledge systems” (Article 7.5). This is a reflection of a persistent institutional gap between the cultural heritage and climate change communities, which must urgently be addressed. Taking into account existing research and policies[1] in the field, there is a need to accelerate the implementation of appropriate mitigation measures for cultural heritage as part of key intergovernmental processes and mechanisms on climate change, in order to ensure cultural continuity and to effectively support the resilience of the affected communities. Without the integration of cultural heritage-related concerns in National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) and Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), progress will be inadequate. Moreover, approaches to mitigating the impact of climate change on heritage should be expanded to fully include intangible cultural heritage, as the impact of climate change on these expressions is tremendous and requires urgent action from the international community. Climate change is affecting all aspects of the world’s cultural heritage. If we do not act immediately, the damage to our common heritage may become irreversible.



In light of the above, Member States are called on to support the protection of cultural and natural heritage from the impact of climate change by mainstreaming this protection into climate change policies and/or processes, in line with the related Paris Agreement objectives and commitments and the SDGs, and taking into account policies and recommendations by UNESCO.


Governments and stakeholders would meet this commitment by 2030 through inter alia the following actions, as appropriate:

  • Accelerate practical action and cooperation schemes to protect cultural and natural heritage from the adverse effects of climate change,
  • Create strategies/mechanisms to promote research, including local knowledge, on the impacts of climate change on cultural and natural heritage and improve the quality of information and the efficiency of mitigation tools and approaches, including through:
    • the strengthening of key baseline information across relevant authorities and agencies including up-to-date inventories and multi-hazard maps;
    • the provision of adequate recording and monitoring systems and tools for the assessment of the vulnerability of various types of heritage and the associated socioeconomic effects caused by climate change;
    • the creation of vulnerability indices for cultural and natural heritage, including intangible heritage, that might be affected by extreme weather events.
  • Foster scientific studies and research methodologies, including those conducted by the communities and groups themselves, aimed at understanding and demonstrating the effectiveness of knowledge of disaster risk reduction, disaster recovery, climate adaptation and climate change mitigation that is recognized by communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals as part of their intangible cultural heritage, while enhancing the capacities of communities, groups and individuals to face challenges related to climate change that existing knowledge may not address;
  • Adopt appropriate legal, technical, administrative and financial measures to:
  • promote access to and transmission of knowledge concerning the earth and the climate that is recognized by communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals as part of their intangible cultural heritage, while respecting customary practices governing access to specific aspects of this knowledge;
  • fully integrate communities, groups and individuals who are bearers of such knowledge into systems and programmes of disaster risk reduction, disaster recovery and climate change adaptation and mitigation.
  • Design, develop and implement plans and programmes, as well as related tools to help mitigate the effects of climate change on cultural and natural heritage, with the view to increase the resilience and adaptive capabilities of cultural and natural heritage, including through:
  • enhanced coordination mechanisms among institutions and actors in the implementation of climate change strategies for cultural heritage and the development of innovative partnerships at the national, institutional, and policy level;
  • the development of capacity-building materials and tools, including the provision of training for national authorities, institutions, as well as communities;
  • the creation of a repository of best practices for actions and management plans related to the prevention of climate change impacts as well as for the adaptation of monuments and sites to climate change, including based on local and indigenous knowledge,
  • the development of risk management plans, early warning systems and emergency action plans for cultural and natural sites,
  • the design of readiness action programmes,
  • the development of risk assessment maps for specific threats,
  • the elaboration of appropriate investment programmes for increasing resilience and adaptive capacities of cultural and natural sites against climate change.
  • Promote education to enhance cultural and natural heritage protection and adequate climate policies and responses in order to build capacity and raise awareness, including through:
  • the promotion of university, primary and secondary education curricula on the impacts of climate change on cultural and natural heritage,
  • the design of awareness and educational material in order to inform the public of these impacts,
  • the implementation of training seminars for decision makers, site managers and other stakeholders.
    • Track progress and share experiences and best practices, in cooperation with the UN system and other stakeholders.

[1]UNESCO Strategy for Action on Climate Change and The UNESCO Declaration of Ethical Principles in relation to Climate Change (2017) Strategy for the reinforcement of UNESCO’s action for the protection of culture and the promotion of cultural pluralism in the event of armed conflict (2017) World Herita«e Policv on Climate Change (2007)