Cultural Heritage and the Climate Emergency: Emerging Challenges and Opportunities

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited or keynote talk at national or international conference


Climate change represents the single greatest threat to cultural heritage both within Europe and globally. Directly or indirectly, all cultural heritage is or will be impacted over the coming decades and the heritage sector is having to rapidly respond to this challenge. The impacts of climate change on heritage sites, properties and traditions do not respect borders and are felt at multiple scales. From the destruction of local and national sites to the damage or erosion of World Heritage properties, loss is always acutely felt both locally and internationally. In the heritage sector, we need to ensure that our response is equally broad, acknowledging the importance of cultural heritage at all scales and responding in a rights-based and equitable manner. Central to this response is the idea that while cultural heritage is impacted by climate change, it is also a powerful asset in climate action.

This paper will explore this dynamic in two ways. Firstly, it will explore the ways in which cultural heritage can assist in promoting climate action with a particular focus on climate communication and stressing urgency, and the role of culture in climate adaptation and carbon mitigation. Drawing on recent global events and reports including reports from the IPCC, it will suggest that cultural heritage represents a crucial ‘missing link’ for global climate action by putting a human face on the realities of the crisis. Our cultural heritage includes innumerable examples of adaptation and mitigation strategies from millennia of pre-carbon culture and these are a powerful asset in designing and creating a sustainable and equitable post-carbon future. It will suggest that central to this future is dismantling existing dichotomies and divisions which dominate our narratives within the heritage sector and wider society, including the nature-culture and tangible-intangible distinctions so key to contemporary heritage management.

Secondly, it will identify and explore a number of contemporary challenges within Europe. This includes the ongoing legacies of post-colonialism on climate impacts and responses, particularly in the scientific and academic communities, which have resulted in a partial understanding of the scale of the challenge and exclusionary processes that marginalise those most impacted by climate change. It will also explore the contentious issue of carbon heritage and how it might be memorialised and understood as part of our wider climate action response.
Period09 Nov 2022
Event titleChallenges of Contemporary European Heritage Care: Event organised on the occasion of the Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union
Event typeConference
LocationPrague, Czech RepublicShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational