Climate change is the defining issue of our time, and among the greatest threats facing cultural and natural heritage today. One in three natural sites and one in six cultural heritage sites are currently threatened by climate change.
In recent months and years, we have seen cultural and natural heritage sites, including many World Heritage sites, threatened by wildfires, floods, storms and mass-bleaching events. We have also seen how climate change puts living heritage – oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, festive events and traditional knowledge – at risk. As climate change leads to displacement and forced migration, entire ways of life risk being lost forever.
In the midst of a historic COP26, with more than 100 countries pledging to end deforestation by 2030, UNESCO’s recent report, World Heritage forests: Carbon sinks under pressure, which we analyze at length in this issue, could not be more timely. The report finds that a staggering 60% of World Heritage forests are threatened by climate change-related events. Marine sites are equally under pressure. Two-thirds of these vital carbon stores - home to 15% of global blue carbon assets - are currently experiencing high risks of degradation, according to the UNESCO Marine World Heritage: Custodians of the globe’s blue carbon assets study, and if no action is taken, coral may disappear at natural heritage sites by the end of the century.
In response to this undeniable impact of climate change on culture, UNESCO is working to build the capacities of countries and communities to prepare for and recover from climate-change related impacts and disasters. At the same time, we are committed to harnessing the potential of culture for climate action, which still remains largely untapped. From tangible and living heritage to museums and creativity, culture represents a wellspring to combat climate change through mitigation and adaptation.
Our strengthened collaboration with partners and Member States to address the growing need for enhanced monitoring of the impact of climate change on heritage through more accurate and relevant data has been critical, as well as our efforts to leverage global platforms, including the Urban Heritage Climate Observatory.
The development of inclusive public policies for climate action through culture is another essential step to advance a shared global climate agenda, which will be strongly supported through the implementation of the updated Policy Document on climate action for World Heritage. Lastly, building knowledge on culture and climate change will allow us to nourish and inform our future roadmap towards reversing climate change, and in this regard the International Co-sponsored Meeting with the IPCC and ICOMOS on ‘Culture, Heritage and Climate Change’ next month will help assess the state of knowledge and practice in this domain.
UNESCO is committed to ensuring that culture is fully integrated into climate action and strategies, both as a shared global asset that needs to be safeguarded from the effects of climate change and as a transversal tool for climate change mitigation and adaptation. The stories and highlights found in this issue of the World Heritage Review point to the way forward.
Ernesto Ottone R.
Assistant Director-General for Culture of UNESCO
The World Heritage Convention and climate change
The historical inclusion of climate change in the Operational Guidelines goes back to 1997. Since then, awareness of climate change threats has continued to grow among World Heritage practitioners.
Quantifying climate benefits from World Heritage forests
UNESCO World Heritage forests can serve as living laboratories for monitoring environmental changes and offer a strong baseline to facilitate dialogue between policy-makers and local stakeholders in the development of effective policies to preserve the role of World Heritage forests as sinks and stable carbon stores for future generations.
Natural World Heritage versus climate change
World Heritage sites – particularly natural ones – show both the scale of impacts resulting from climate change and the opportunities for concerted efforts to combat them.
Climate change, World Heritage, COVID-19 and tourism
Climate change impacts on World Heritage, and their complex interactions with tourism, remain an important area for development in the management of sites. As the world continues to respond to COVID-19, it is more important than ever that World Heritage play its part, both in drawing attention to climate change and in developing ways to respond and adapt to it.
Prof. Lee White, Minister of Water, Forests and Environment, Gabon.
Building back better: capacity-building on disaster risk management for South-East Asian cultural heritage.
Towards a new policy document on climate action
Thirty-four sites added to UNESCO World Heritage List; International Hydropower Association announces new commitment to World Heritage sites and protected areas; International Advisory Committee on World Heritage created in Uzbekistan.
Salonga National Park (Democratic Republic of the Congo) removed from List of World Heritage in Danger.
Visitors Count! for tourism; Comoros trains young tour guides; Youth Forum on sustainability.