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Renewable Energy Transition
and World Heritage

© UNESCO / Thomas Rigauts

Climate change is one of the defining issues of our time, and with over 30 programs in the sciences, education, culture and communication sector, UNESCO is actively contributing to create knowledge, educate and communicate about climate change, and is working to understand the ethical implications for present and future generations. UNESCO has also been at the forefront of exploring and managing the impacts of climate change on World Heritage, and supported specific World Heritage sites on climate change adaptation and mitigation activities.

The promotion of renewable energy production is of great importance, as this technology is among the key solutions for the mitigation of climate change and the promotion of sustainable development. The number of renewable energy installation projects (such as wind farms, biomass production, hydropower and photovoltaic power plants) in all the regions of the World Heritage Convention is currently rising. It however, results in considerable challenges for the conservation and management of World Heritage properties. Impacts can even be expected when such projects are planned in the wider setting of World Heritage properties and their buffer zones. The major issue is the presumed negative impact of the renewable energy infrastructure on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the properties.

The transition to the utilization of renewable energy is an important mean to combat climate change. UNESCO World Heritage Centre wishes to take a proactive role in supporting States Parties and all stakeholders in this important step by conveying a message of solidarity and cooperation, but also by ensuring the protection and preservation of the Outstanding Universal Value of World Heritage properties. In line with the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals 7, 13 and 11.4, the World Heritage Centre believes that protection of the world cultural and natural heritage and renewable energy projects could go hand in hand if these projects are planned, evaluated and implemented in ways that assure the safeguarding of the OUV of World Heritage properties.

In this context, the World Heritage Centre launched an initiative to develop, in collaboration with States Parties in the Europe and North America region of the World Heritage Convention, an effective Guidance Tool, providing methods to avoid and mitigate the possible negative impacts of renewable energy projects on the OUV of the World Heritage properties.

The Guidance Tool (that will be available in English and French) aims to assist States Parties to the World heritage Convention, increase public awareness and effectively contribute to knowledge dissemination. The proposed resource targets an expanding audience, comprising the relevant stakeholders of the States Parties: national, regional and local authorities and World Heritage site managers. Additionally, it aims to assist project initiators (firms and companies in the energy industry) in understanding the interest of World Heritage protection.

Funded by the Netherlands Funds-in-Trust, the project is currently in its first stage of development (the project period runs from 1 August 2019 to 31 March 2021), and will focus on wind energy installations.

Main Objectives of the Project

The planned Guidance Tool will have a special focus on wind turbine projects, and aims to serve as a resource for States Parties to prevent conservation issues in World Heritage properties (both cultural, natural and mixed sites) and identify ways in which renewable energy initiatives and World Heritage protection could go hand in hand. It also aims to assist developing national strategies for the evaluation process of these project proposals in relation to the protection of World Heritage values, and World Heritage site management in general.

The guidance tool is expected
  1. To strengthen the state of conservation of World Heritage by providing a specially focused guidance tool to State Parties which enhances the protection of the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the properties.
  2. To raise awareness about the importance of a deeper understanding of the OUV of the World Heritage properties and the attributes that convey the OUV, in order to develop adequate management systems.
  3. To facilitate planning in general, and the preparation of more suitable and complex Heritage Impact Assessments, Environmental Impact Assessments and other relevant documents for State Parties, by providing a technical guidance to assess and mitigate the possible negative impact of wind farm projects.
  4. To enhance capacity building for State Parties by providing a complex toolkit that will help understanding the complexity and possible importance of visual integrity and other aspects of World Heritage properties.

The result of this projects aims to contribute to the following Sustainable Development Goals

Goal 7Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Goal 11.4 Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world's cultural and natural heritage
Goal 13 Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts