ARTeCLIMA: Cultural Heritage Conservation and Protection in the wake of Climate Change

The ARTeCLIMA conference opened with institutional greetings by the President of the Senate of the Republic, Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati, and it was moderated by the Secretary of the Presidency of the Senate of the Republic, Michela Montevecchi.

Notable guests and speakers included Minister of Environment, Land and Sea, Sergio Costa; the Commander of Carabinieri Cultural Heritage Protection (Carabinieri – TPC), General Roberto Riccardi; Archaeologist and Art Historian, Salvatore Settis; and, the Director of the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, Ana Luiza M. Thompson-Flores.

The protection of the world cultural and natural heritage is one of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals; more generally, culture and cultural heritage are recognized as cross-cutting drivers and enablers to achieve the objectives of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In her address, Ana Luiza M. Thompson-Flores drew attention to “the importance of knowing the effects of climate change, particularly on cultural heritage, in light of recent natural disasters and emergency situations, such as the COVID-19 pandemic”.

The loss of cultural heritage, tangible and intangible, is one of the prominent consequences of climate change. Thus, we ought to work towards the alleviation of the causes of climate change and its effects, also considering the demonstrated importance of cultural heritage – tangible and intangible – as a means to mitigate some of the effects of climate change. As Ms. Thompson-Flores put it: “cultural heritage should be understood not only as a victim of climate change, but also as a resource to reduce its impact and consequences”.

In his speech, General Riccardi quoted ISPRA having reported that “there are risks of landslides and 37.847 Italian cultural heritage and 28.483 sites are currently exposed to floods. By itself, Rome would have 2.204 goods at risk, followed by Florence with 1.145, not to mention all the damage suffered by ancient books.”

In light of several occurrences across the globe, there is a rapidly growing number of catastrophes due to climate change, which have affected world heritage assets. Recent events such as wildfires in western United States, hurricane “Laura” in the Antilles and the Gulf of Mexico, and other violent weather patterns that are occurring more and more frequently in Europe and Italy as well, are a few examples of the increasing consequences of climate change that can be attributed to the loss of cultural heritage.

Experts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have indicated the utility of culture in adapting to climate change through enabling communities to be more resilient. In other words, natural and cultural heritage sites represent a mental and physical refuge in emergency events for affected communities. Hence, identifying the link between cultural heritage and conservation of the environment essentially informs better means through which such effects can be mitigated.

The UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe works with different actors and countries in South-East Europe in the fields of education, culture, ocean literacy, and environmental sciences to promote and improve policies aimed at the preservation and management of cultural and natural resources.

A number of projects in which UNESCO is partner have the objective to minimise the vulnerability of cultural and natural heritage towards climate change, such as SHELTER and I-REACT, both funded by the EU Horizon 2020 programme.

Other projects such as the H2020 project GEO4CIVHIC, aim to manage and reduce the risk of disaster in UNESCO designated sites, and to develop new technologies to use green energy for supporting cultural heritage preservation. In general, the UNESCO Regional Bureau supports capacity building of managing authorities and other key stakeholders in UNESCO designated sites to enhance the contribution of the latter to the achievement of the SDGs, including its environmental dimension.