Addressing the Climate Crisis Through Culture: Preserving Heritage and Supporting Green Transition

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Monday, 12 April, 2021

Addressing the Climate Crisis Through Culture: Preserving Heritage and Supporting Green Transition

In its position as the current President of the G20, the Italian Government is holding an all-day webinar on 12th April on addressing climate change through culture, in the lead up to COP26 in Glasgow later this year. IIC's President, Julian Bickersteth, is among the speakers.

The scale and speed of climate change puts cultural heritage at serious risk. While the understanding of the factors behind such scenarios is rapidly improving, more policy work needs to be done at international, national and local levels to systematically tackle climate-related disruption of cultural heritage while at the same time leveraging the power of culture to support green transitions.

The challenge - from floods to melting permafrost

Climate change represents one of the greatest threats facing culture and cultural heritage. Floods and increasing extreme weather events such as powerful storms, desertification or the melting of permafrost are destroying important sites at an alarming rate, with an impact on local cultural practices and sites of outstanding value. The historic environment and cultural landscape, designed in line with the local climate conditions, reveals its fragility when exposed to the rapid changes in atmosphere or weathering processes or when attacked by pollution.

These catastrophic or subtle effects even have an impact on art objects held indoors. The combined impact of climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic is worsening the situation, exposing structural vulnerabilities and inequalities -  and depriving communities and cultural institutions of the resources needed to address those threats.

Culture as an asset

On the other hand, cultural heritage plays a role in supporting circular economies and a culture of reuse, reducing greenhouse gases associated with waste and consumption and helping countries de-carbonise economies at a lower cost. Culture can be used to encourage societies to change their lifestyles and  adopt sustainable consumption and production approaches.

Significant knowledge is also embedded in cultural heritage, creativity and crafts, which has the potential to support transitions by communities towards low carbon and climate-resilient development pathways.

Sharing the best ideas between cultural bodies

Understanding these issues is becoming the “new normal” for heritage administration, and learning from each other’s experience is now vital. How can we share experience in order to avoid or minimise climage change impacts? How can cooperation help heritage institutions to be better prepared and respond in case of an emergency? What lesson can we learn from the diverse risk management approaches? How can culture and heritage drive climate ambition and action? How can we make sure that culture and cultural heritage is better represented in the climate change discourse and policy? How should we make best use of the opportunities offered by new technologies for risk prevention and management?

The aim of this multi-stakeholder webinar is to fill this gap by providing policy makers of G20 countries with the latest evidence to define clear policy objectives and to jointly pursue them through coordinated action. The webinar will be an occasion to learn from latest academic evidence, international and G20 countries policies and experiences to enhance resilience through adaptation (prevention), mitigation and emergency responses. The findings of the webinar will inform the Declaration of G20 Ministers of Culture and will set the scene for further cooperation of G20 countries on these issues.


  • Climate change scenarios and how they will affect cultural heritage through adverse events
  • Identifying the types of heritage most at risk, defined by quantitative evidence and the findingss through specific analytical tools
  • Case studies illustrating how a co-ordinated strategy among the G20 wouuld work to protect objects and collections, buildings and sites, archaeology, intangible heritage and cultural landscapes - both through prevention and emergency intervention.
  • How cultural heritage can be a driver and enabler for climate action, backed up by technological solutions
  • A particular look at prevention and protection through best practices including monitoring, conservation, planned maintenance, and energy saving. Conversely there will also be a focus on existing emergency response groups including the Task Force Unite4Heritage (U4H).

The group aims to use the opportunity offered by Pre-COP26 in Milan (IT) and COP26 in Glasgow (UK) to create a collaborative plan between the G20. It also aims to activate cultural heritage professionals, institutions, civil society and local communities to address climate-related threats to their culture and heritage. Relatedly,  it will encourage sustainable tourism practices which will be discussed at the G20 Tourism Working Group.