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UNESCO’s solutions for climate change impact on culture

Friday, 4 November 2022 at 20:00
access_time 3 min read
© UNESCO

UNESCO World Heritage sites demonstrate the impacts of climate change on cultural heritage and are important resources for traditional knowledge and practices and lead the way for heritage-based solutions and strategies. UNESCO is at the forefront of collecting data and evidence concerning climate change's impact on culture. Through the World Heritage Canopy platform, heritage-based solutions for Sustainable Futures including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) such as SDG13 - climate action, are reflected through case studies of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

In the midst of the 27th Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP27), the experience of World Heritage sites provides important evidence and ways forward to support UNESCO Member States, and beyond, in their climate actions building on culture at the local and national levels. This is also the first time that case studies with site level evidence concerning climate change's impact on culture has been collected globally - through this World Heritage Canopy platform. The documented knowledge and practices inherent in World Heritage sites, transmitted by local communities, and evidenced by their spatial forms and management of local resources across different world regions show clearly the importance of traditional and indigenous knowledge, management, and practices.  

World Heritage Canopy is a platform of innovative strategies and practices that integrate heritage conservation with sustainable development. Through case studies and practical examples, the platform aims to inspire and guide local actions that contribute to and align with major global commitments including the 1972 World Heritage Convention, the Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Climate change is a 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 UNESCO World Heritage sites, threatened by wildfires, floods, storms and mass-bleaching events, among many climate change-related impacts. We have also seen how climate change puts cities and living heritage – oral traditions, 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.

UNESCO’s recent report, World Heritage Glaciers Sentinels of Climate Change, prepared in partnership with IUCN, could not be more timely. The report releases new UNESCO data highlighting the accelerated melting of glaciers in World Heritage sites, with glaciers in a third of sites set to disappear by 2050. But it is still possible to save the other two thirds, if the rise in global temperatures does not exceed 1.5°C compared to the pre-industrial period. This will be a major challenge for COP27.

In response to this undeniable impact of climate change on World Heritage and culture, UNESCO is working to build the capacities of countries and communities to better prepare for and recover from climate-change related impacts and disasters. At the same time, UNESCO is 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.

UNESCO’s strengthened collaboration with partners and Member States to address the growing need for enhanced monitoring of the impacts of climate change on heritage through more accurate and relevant data has been critical, as well as 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, currently being finalized. Building knowledge on culture and climate change will allow us to nourish and inform our future roadmap for #TheNext50 years and beyond in overcoming climate change.

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, adaptation and a source of resilience.

Discover UNESCO’s climate change solutions for culture here: UNESCO World Heritage Centre - activities

Discover World Heritage canopy here: UNESCO World Heritage Centre - World Heritage Canopy: Heritage Solutions for Sustainable Futures

Discover UNESCO’s action on culture and climate change here: Culture: the ultimate renewable resource to tackle climate change

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