Cultural heritage is under threat from climate change at an unprecedented speed and scale. Yet EU Member States do not have proper policies and action plans in place to mitigate these, nor does the European Union.
This is one of the key findings of a September report titled “Strengthening cultural heritage resilience for climate change. Where the European Green Deal meets cultural heritage”. The report was written for the European Commission by 50 experts from 28 European countries.
26 countries provided a collection of 83 best practices, relating to all types of cultural heritage: buildings, landscapes, traditional skills, underwater heritage, archaeological sites, etc. These best practices are useful examples of the many approaches that can inspire climate change decision-makers, but also heritage professionals, craftsmen, and educators, in addressing the threats posed by climate change to cultural heritage.
Cultural heritage and climate change – key findings of the report
At national level, different ministries are responsible for cultural heritage policies and climate change policies. This makes it difficult to implement common and suitable strategies. In order to highlight that cultural heritage needs to be considered in the fight against climate change, it is necessary that it is included in all mainstream policies at both national level and EU levels.
Improving heritage resilience to climate change involves a strategic shift towards investment in new forms of development. For example, instead of demolishing old buildings of cultural value, authors of the report call for them to be be maintained, repaired, reused and retrofitted, which is more climate friendly.
Additionally, awareness-raising is needed at all levels of society of the vulnerability of cultural heritage and the increasing threats posed by climate change.
There is also a need to further invest in research and education by systematically including cultural heritage in the national education systems and national research programmes.
Europe can be proud about its rich and diverse cultural heritage. We can be proud about our worldwide pioneering role in research and innovation to protect cultural heritage from the impacts of climate change. However, we must do more and quickly - with the help of cultural heritage we can transform also our economic model to become a greener, sustainable climate resilient society.
– said Mariya Gabriel Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth.
About the EU group of experts
A group of 50 experts from 25 EU Member States, Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland working under the Open Method of Coordination (OMC), studied the impact of climate change on cultural heritage and collected best practices to protect and safeguard Europe’s cultural heritage. They also sought to identify how cultural heritage can provide answers to climate crisis and be a source of traditional knowledge and inspiration.
The group worked together in a truly European spirit. It was a great honour and unique opportunity for all of us to look for answers how we can sustain our European cultural heritage for future generations.
– said Dr. Johanna Leissner, the chair of the OMC group and delegate of Germany.
The group met from January 2021 to April 2022. Their work, carried out in the framework of the European Council’s Work Plan for Culture 2019-2022, marks the first time that a political mandate was given to examine cultural heritage in times of climate change. A large number of countries that took part in the expert group shows that this topic is gaining increasingly more importance and that there is a need for greater research, cooperation, identification of gaps and exchange of best practices at European level.
The report will be available in French and German, and the executive summary in all EU languages, in Autumn 2022.