Climate change is the fastest growing threat to historic sites and the greatest danger to our planet’s most spectacular natural heritage today. One in three natural sites and one in six cultural heritage sites are threatened by climate change impacts like floods, droughts, and rising seas.
To safeguard cultural heritage, there is an urgent need to equip communities worldwide with the tools to accurately anticipate worsening and future climate impacts, and empower them with training to turn that scientific knowledge into action that will safeguard sites, support community adaptation, and plan for unavoidable loss and damage.
We’re excited to meet that need with a new global initiative, Preserving Legacies: A Future for Our Past.
Losing the places and traditions that make us who we are
No matter what corner of our shared planet you call home, climate change is exacting devastating damage and irreplaceable loss on cultural heritage sites and the communities that care for them.
Cultural landscapes, archeological sites, and historic buildings cannot change as quickly as is required to adapt to the climate crisis. And while dedicated community leaders are using local expertise and passion to safeguard sites, solutions are often reactive, focused on addressing current threats and documenting loss today. But climate change is not static. The consequences of a rapidly warming world become more intense and frequent each year. Hazards like floods, droughts, and changing seasonality reaching far beyond tangible damage to also impact associated communities’ wellbeing. That’s what makes climate change unlike other threats to our heritage.
It is not a singular event which requires an acute response. Rather, it is and will be a chronic and persistent issue that impacts all aspects of heritage sites and the communities that care for and rely on them. Climate impacts are both directly and indirectly felt. Rising sea-levels or extreme rainfall may damage the physical fabric of our site, but they also impact inherited traditions, livelihoods, and identities.
Our approach to addressing climate change impacts on heritage sites cannot be limited to hiring specialists and consultants. Nor should it be another toolkit which assumes a linear and standardized response.
We are in need of an approach as dynamic as climate change itself.
Equipping communities with tools, training, and support to safeguard their sites
New approaches must be inclusive and open, drawing on plural ways of knowing, listening to communities, and placing climate action at the heart of how we operate. And that’s exactly what Preserving Legacies does.
Preserving Legacies aims to empower every community with the scientific knowledge and technical training to achieve appropriate place and people-based climate adaptation plans. Through an interactive training program, Preserving Legacies equips communities with the capability to understand and visualize climate change impacts on a local scale, map the vulnerability of their sites and the community values they hold to those impacts, and act to minimize the adverse consequences of climate change and maximize the opportunities it presents.
Our approach integrates scientific, local, and Indigenous knowledges to find sustainable and culturally appropriate solutions to the long-term preservation of cultural heritage sites. This integration of different knowledge systems supports developing better approaches to adaptation and learning from ancestral practices to safeguard values for the next generations.
Preserving Legacies utilizes the global ICOMOS expertise and members and builds on our team’s years of experience building communities of practice, sharing experiences, and creating training resources for heritage professionals. And while the project initially involves ten heritage sites in our first cohort, our vision is to build a global community of practice that reaches thousands of sites in the decade to come.
Equip communities with the capability to visualize future climate change hazards on a local scale by enabling access to downscaled global climate models and improve climate literacy of site custodians to understand how to use climate science in conservation planning. Using local weather data, downscaled climate models give every site a way to visualize how much flooding, heat, or sea level rise will threaten their sites, values, and livelihoods in different warming scenarios. This allows community leaders and site managers to answer critical questions about which climate impacts they should plan for and when they are likely to experience them.
Empower site custodians to conduct a values-based climate vulnerability assessment for cultural sites and associated communities and create actionable management plans to adapt them. Understanding the impact of climate change on sites must always be values-driven and the process must accept, acknowledge, and recognise a plurality of value systems. Hands-on training on inclusive stakeholder engagement and values-mapping enables site custodians to understand when, how, and what specific elements of sites are vulnerable to climate change.
Create long-lasting, sustainable international collaborations and relationships through networking activities and a global community of practice. Preserving Legacies is as much about capacity and knowledge exchange as it is about knowledge transfer. Climate change knows no boundaries. It is truly global and we can learn from one another. Each site custodian comes from different countries and sites. Each has unique skills and experiences of great value to others and sharing these is a key part of the Preserving Legacies project.
Share the diverse stories embedded within this project and uplift site custodians as climate heritage champions. Stories help us share knowledge and document both the challenges of and solutions to living in an ever changing world, and by telling ours through video, photo, and text, we can inspire millions to take climate action and care for cultural and natural heritage sites on every continent.
ICOMOS works for the conservation and protection of cultural heritage places. It is the only global non-government organisation of this kind, which is dedicated to promoting the application of theory, methodology, and scientific techniques to the conservation of the architectural and archaeological heritage. It is a global network of experts that benefits from the interdisciplinary exchange of its members, among which are architects, historians, archaeologists, art historians, geographers, anthropologists, engineers and town planners. ICOMOS members contribute to improving the preservation of heritage, the standards and the techniques for each type of cultural heritage property: buildings, historic cities, cultural landscapes and archaeological sites. ICOMOS is the primary partner and fiscal sponsor of the Preserving Legacies project and our team are members of different national committees including France, USA, Ireland and Tunisia.
The Climate Heritage Network (CHN) is a voluntary, mutual support network of government agencies, NGOs, universities, businesses, and other organizations committed to tackling climate change and achieving the ambitions of the Paris Agreement.
Mobilized in 2018 during the Global Climate Action Summit and launched in 2019, the Climate Heritage Network works to re-orient climate policy, planning, and action at all levels to account for dimensions of culture - from arts to heritage.
The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world.
Manulife Financial Corporation is a leading international financial services provider, helping people make their decisions easier and lives better. With our global headquarters in Toronto, Canada, we provide financial advice and insurance, operating as Manulife across Canada, Asia, and Europe, and primarily as John Hancock in the United States.