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Dialogue between Carissa Klein and Neeshad Shafi

50 Minds for the Next 50. Safeguarding Heritage against Climate Crisis Session

Carissa Klein

Marine conservationist and scientist

Neeshad Shafi

Climate advocate and energy and policy expert

Vision for the Next 50

In the Next 50… We use a lot more science to support policy towards reducing carbon emissions and to lower the sea level for the sake of heritage protection.

In the Next 50… Young people, particularly in the MENA region, are well represented and supported to continue responding to climate issues. We recognize the crucial role they play in safeguarding heritage and indigenous communities from the pollution caused by oil and gas industries.


Carissa Klein and Neeshad Shafi focused on the relationship between human-induced climate issues and heritage preservation. They both agreed that reducing carbon emissions should be a priority to safeguard heritage. Klein emphasized the importance of scientific research to develop fact-based policies to serve heritage. She also stressed that World Heritage sites endangered by climate change must be taken more seriously. Shafi highlighted the power of youth in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to stop the pollution derived from oil and gas industries. He believes that UNESCO must ensure that their voices are heard, while encouraging the youth community to take part in environmental movements for heritage.


My first question concerns your impressive role with youth organizations and your leadership in this field. We all know that youth will play a big role in solving our climate crisis and improving the protection of World Heritage, but what are your thoughts in that regard and what have you learned dealing with youth? What can we do to help inspire the youth to be leaders in this space?

It’s essential that young people play a crucial role in the climate crisis, which they are already doing. For me, as a young person from the Middle East, it is crucial that the youth from our region is also well represented. With regard to heritage and youth movements, it is important to many of them. We need greater awareness to enable the youth community to take part. It’s great that youth movements have taken up the climate fight against the polluting oil and gas industries and supporting indigenous communities. But heritage should also be supported by UNESCO. I am also part of the UNESCO steering committee for the MENA region so it also my responsibility.

I always wonder if kids today will grow up and say: ‘how did we let that happen, how did people just sit back and watch’. So we have to do something to prevent this.

As an energy and policy expert, what do you think are the key policies needed to reduce global emissions to a level that is consistent with protecting the majority of our World Heritage areas?

Especially for the Middle East and Gulf countries where I live, oil and gas are the main sources of revenue and decarbonisation should therefore be on the agenda. Many of the countries aim to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and 2060, which I feel is very optimistic given the region’s heavy reliance on the oil and gas industry. At the same time, the transition discussion should also switch to other countries.

What solution do you have for a harmonious coexistence between heritage protection and sustainable livelihoods?

My answer comes from the context of one of Australia’s most precious World Heritage areas, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. It Is the world’s largest stretch of coral reef and a World Heritage site, but the most significant threat to its existence is climate change. Just this season the Great Barrier Reef experienced its fourth extensive coral bleaching event since 2016. Scientists have already done the work and know exactly what we need to do to save the Great Barrier Reef, and we’re not doing it. Scientists have determined that limiting warming to 1.5°C is the critical threshold, not just for the Great Barrier Reef but for all the world’s reefs.

For these World Heritage areas to continue to exist into the future we need to start reducing emissions globally and to drop to a level that is consistent with the protection of our world heritage so that we can be more sustainable in the future.

Absolutely, as a marine conservation scientist, have you had a first-hand experience on how climate change has impacted the marine ecosystem, for example, in Natural World Heritage Sites that you have documented as a researcher?

I go out to the Great Barrier Reef, which is in the state where I live, on a regular basis, and the sites I recently visited are completely bleached. It’s like watching something die. It looks so colourful and vibrant and wonderful, but when it’s bleached it doesn’t look right. It’s incredibly sad to see. We are witnessing extensive bleaching this season and if we don’t do something about climate change here in Australia and globally, I’m afraid that this World Heritage site is not going to be on the list for much longer.

Absolutely. Australia’s coral reef is known around the globe and, for you, as an Australian, and for me, as a climate advocate, we definitely would want to preserve it for future generations.

Australia needs to take leadership in this too. We are a country that has the wealth and the capacity to address this, we know exactly what needs to be done but we’re not doing it. The current government is looking at a 2°C limit when we need 1.5°C to save the Great Barrier Reef. So we need to do more.

Given your background, how can you see how evidence-based research can impact on policy change, and how do you think this can help make those changes in Australia, or anywhere else in the world?

The evidence is clear, the scientists have done the experiments, they know that the reef can only handle 1.5°C. If we keep repeating that message and don’t do something about it then the youth, who you work with, will say: ‘how could you not have done that, it was so obvious’. So I think it’s absolutely essential to have the science to support the policies. I just hope that the policy-makers are listening to the science, but so far they are not.

I’ve seen many scientists today approach activists, and I think it’s necessary as sometimes we cannot convey the right technical knowledge in the way scientists can.

As a woman scientist, do you see young women at universities aspiring to take up this challenge? You don’t always have to be an activist, you can be a scientist, really helping climate action. So what is your take on scientists who feel they’re not doing anything because they’re sitting in a lab?

I always encourage the youth to do what inspires them and what makes them feel good, and a lot of students come to my office looking to do a degree and thinking of some of very traditional lab-based disciplines, but conservation science is fortunately not that, it’s very much applied science.

How do you see the link between natural and built heritage? that is, those which are naturally made and need to be conserved and the human-made sites that also need to be conserved and which climate change can destroy with rising sea levels and extreme weather events. How do you see and connect both these heritage sites, which are so important for humankind?

That’s a really interesting question. I was thinking about that earlier when someone mentioned the sinking of cultural heritage sites due to climate change. Wouldn’t it be great if there was more science out there to support the climate scenarios we need to protect those sites, like we have for the Great Barrier Reef.

In some cases, some built environments are situated close to more natural ecosystems, which can help combat climate change and protect the sites. An example would be a site along the coast, whose mangroves, coral reefs or seagrass can interact in a way that can help buffer the buildings from the effects of storms during severe weather events.

The interaction is all important and it seems like climate change is really a common thread that is heavily impacting many of those human-made and natural sites. We need more science to support what we need to do in terms of policy towards reducing carbon emissions and to protect those heritage sites.

In terms of natural heritage, in Doha, we have protected mangroves and swamp areas, and it is really fascinating during the turtle hatching period every year when they close all the beaches.

I hope that World Heritage sites that are endangered due to climate change are taken more seriously in the future. I know it’s very controversial but it was decided not to list the Great Barrier Reef as World Heritage in danger, when I think it is severely in danger. If we don’t list it as in danger then I am worried that our governments are never going to do anything about it, so I just hope that future policies are strengthened in the next 50 years.

In terms of the Next 50 on safeguarding heritage, I think we need to have a special task force of young people who actually work to protect natural and built heritage, which are the symbols of humanity’s existence and natural wonder. I think they should be trained by conservationists and marine biologists, like Dr Klein, who will give them first-hand support on how to protect those regions. You will then have community policing around the world to protect those natural ecosystems, with youth playing a crucial role.

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Explore other sessions

Five dialogue sessions covering five themes take place in 2022, each joined by thinkers in paired dialogue from diverse regions. The interdisciplinary dialogues inspire new visions for the next 50 years of World Heritage.

Safeguarding Heritage against Climate Crisis
Imagining Heritage in the Digital Dimension
Heritage in the post-COVID World
Sustainable Tourism & Sustainable Heritage
Towards a Balanced Representation of World Heritage Sites