Europa Nostra contributes to G20 webinar on climate change and culture

On 12 April, Europa Nostra contributed to an important webinar on climate change and culture organised by the Italian Presidency of the G20, the premier forum for international economic cooperation. The webinar Addressing the Climate Crisis through Culture” was part of a series of three multi-stakeholders thematic webinars organised by the Italian Presidency ahead of the G20 Culture Ministerial meeting that will take place on 29-30 July 2021 in Rome. Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović, Secretary General of Europa Nostra, spoke on this key topic, focusing on Europa Nostra’s actions and ambitions with regard to climate action. She briefly presented the recently published European Cultural Heritage Green Paper “Putting Europe’s shared heritage at the heart of the European Green Deal”, produced by Europa Nostra in close collaboration with ICOMOS and the Climate Heritage Network, with the input of other members of the European Heritage Alliance, and with the support of the European Investment Bank Institute and the Creative Europe programme of the European Union.

The webinar “Addressing the Climate Crisis through Culture” tackled the complexities and challenges associated with climate change, culture and cultural heritage. Climate change represents one of the greatest threats facing culture and cultural heritage, but culture and heritage are also vital resources for climate change mitigation and adaptation. The webinar was sub-divided in three different sessions and gathered over 20 high-level speakers representing local, national and international organisations, academia and civil society, as well as more than 10 concrete case studies related to climate, heritage and culture.

The webinar started with an opening speech from the Italian Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini. “For too many years, culture has been marginalised in the international scene. Italy will place culture at the heart of the G20”, he stated. “Culture is an engine for sustainable economic growth”. Senator Lucia Borgonzoni, Undersecretary of State, added: “Cultural heritage means roots, traditions but also business, tourism and technology”.

After the institutional greetings, three sub-sessions of the webinar focused on different aspects of climate change and culture: from the impact of global warming on cultural diversity to concrete strategies and actions to increase the resilience of the heritage sector face to climate change.

Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović, Secretary General of Europa Nostra, spoke during Session III – Culture-Based Solutions Driving Climate Action. Other panelists in this session were Debra Roberts, Co-chair of the Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; Glen MacDonald, Professor holding the UCLA Endowed Chair in Geography of California and the American West; Sara Crofts, Chief Executive at Icon, the Institute of Conservation, and Council Member of Europa Nostra; and Ariadne ‘Ari’ Gorring, from the International Savanna Fire Initiative. The session was chaired by Andrew Potts, Chair of ICOMOS Working Group on Cultural Heritage and Climate Change and coordinator of the Climate Heritage Network, who is also the Lead Author of our European Cultural Heritage Green Paper. After the panelists’ interventions, three concrete case studies were presented.

The Secretary General of Europa Nostra presented the European Cultural Heritage Green Paper “Putting Europe’s shared heritage at the heart of the European Green Deal”. “From reusing heritage buildings to using traditional agricultural know-how to support sustainable food systems, cultural heritage can support the transition towards a healthier, greener and fairer future. For this huge potential to be unleashed, all European climate related strategies must fully incorporate social and cultural aspects,” she stressed.

Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović also outlined the ambitions of Europa Nostra with regard to climate action and cultural heritage. “We need a true Global Coalition for heritage and climate action. It is high time that culture and heritage are moved from the periphery to where they rightfully belong – at the very centre of wider climate action and sustainability frameworks. Conversely, climate considerations must be effectively mainstreamed into heritage policy and actions at all levels. Europa Nostra stands ready to act as a civil society bridge-builder to achieve this ambition”.

Debra Robert, co-chair of the Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, stated: “The heritage community must focus on concrete solutions. There are many hazards and disasters and we need to understand where and how to act”.

Glen MacDonald, UCLA Geography Chair on California and the American West, highlighted that “through effective communication, people can be motivated to combine heritage with energy efficiency. To achieve transformative change, we need to extend communication worldwide and be reachable”.

Sara Crofts, Chief Executive at Icon, the Institute of Conservation, and Council member of Europa Nostra added: “Cultural heritage is at risk due to climate change. Yet the Climate Heritage Network was set up to demonstrate that the heritage world is not a passive actor in this challenge, on the opposite”. She also mentioned the role of the European Heritage Awards / Europa Nostra Awards as a useful pool of good practices in this field and suggested environmental sustainability to be considered as a requirement to give this prestigious European Award.

Last but not least, Ariadne ‘Ari’ Gorring from the International Savanna Fire Initiative (a nature-based enterprise to ensure just transition), noted: “Indigenous knowledge and practices, such as the Traditional fire Management of Australian indigenous populations, can be re-introduced as adaptation tools and give a possibility to re-imagine and redefine our relationship with nature”.

Following the panelists’ interventions, three concrete studies were presented, notably “Energy performance of buildings” by Cerema Est – CREBA, the French resource centre for the energy retrofit of heritage buildings; “Mason’s Ink project” in India, which uses traditional building knowledge to reduce the carbon footprint of construction; and the case of the Historic Centre of Morelia, Mexico, on recycling power to manage an historic city centre.

Andrew Potts, Chair of ICOMOS Working Group on Cultural Heritage and Climate Change and coordinator of the Climate Heritage Network, reminded that “through evidence and examples, the session has successfully made the case that culture and cultural heritage are drivers of climate action, just transition, and climate-resilient futures”. “We talked about the built environment, cultural landscapes, traditional knowledge and indigenous science – we can see that all across the heritage spectrum, cultural institutions, actors and advocates can play a role in climate action. Now, we must inspire G20 leaders to be at the forefront of this movement. We hope this webinar will be useful in this sense”, he concluded.

Next steps

The series of three webinars organised by the Italian Presidency of the G20 will feed into the discussions of the G20 Culture Ministerial meeting that will take place on 29-30 July 2021 in Rome. During the G20 Culture Ministerial Meeting, Culture Ministers will explore how to ensure a better representation of culture and cultural heritage in the climate change discourse and policy, using the opportunity offered by the Pre-COP26 in Milan (Italy) and COP26 in Glasgow (UK).

The outcomes and concrete recommendations emerged from each webinar will be brought to the attention of G20 Culture Ministers in July by the Italian Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini in order to enrich the meeting with a multilevel civil society contribution to the debate. The G20 Culture ultimately will produce actionable, policy relevant ideas that can be incorporated into a ministerial level declaration. Europa Nostra, together with its partners ICOMOS, the Climate Heritage Network and the European Investment Bank stand ready to actively contribute to these efforts.

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