Europa Nostra contributes to high-level event organised by the Greek Government in the frame of the COP26

On 2 November 2021, Europa Nostra contributed to the high-level event “Addressing climate change impacts on cultural and natural heritage: The Way Forward” organised by the Greek Government in the framework of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26). The event focused on the interconnection and interdependence between cultural heritage – natural and cultural – and the impacts of climate change. The hybrid event gathered high-level representatives of the Greek government, UNESCO, the European Commission, the United Nations, the World Meteorological Organisation, as well as Ministers from Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan, North Macedonia and the United Arab Emirates. The civil society was represented by Europa Nostra, ICOMOS and the World Human Forum. Europa Nostra’s Secretary General Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailovic contributed to the panel “Challenges and prospects on management of cultural and natural heritage in the context of the climate crisis”.

During the opening session, institutional representatives from the Greek Government, UNESCO, the UNFCCC, the European Commision, the US Government and the World Meteorological Organisation delivered inspiring keynote addresses highlighting the close relationship between the climate crisis and our cultural heritage.

In her opening remarks Lina Mendoni, Greek Minister of Culture and Sports, highlighted the ambitions of the Greek government to “streamline efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change”. She recalled that the event aimed at building on the solid basis laid by the initiative “Addressing climate change impacts on cultural and natural heritage” driven by the Greek Government with the support of UNESCO and the World Meteorological Organization, as well as ICOMOS and Europa Nostra. This initiative was launched during the UN Climate Action Summit in September 2019.

Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, reminded the important threats posed by climate change to cultural heritage: “Fires, global warming, urban growth, encroaching desert and rising sea levels are eroding natural landscapes and many heritage sites”. She expressed her support for the initiative of the Greek government: “This initiative puts heritage at heart of the climate agenda,” she added.

Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate (UNFCCC), reminded the important implications of climate change for cultural heritage and urged national governments to include heritage assets in their National Adaptation Plans.

Margaritis Schinas, European Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, stressed: “Until recently, cultural heritage was hardly mentioned in the (climate change) discussion, yet its impact affects all heritage sites”. He also recalled how cultural heritage can contribute to both the European Green Deal at European level and the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals at global level.

John Kerry, US Secretary of State and US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, reminded the many repercussions of extreme weather events on heritage and people’s livelihoods and pointed out some particularly vulnerable areas such as the Mediterranean. “The US strongly supports the initiative (of the Greek Government) as it creates a forum to share strategies and to help prevent irreversible damage,” he added.

Petteri Taalas, Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organisation, highlighted the negative effects of climate change on our natural heritage, including forests such as the Amazon, due to extreme changes in temperature and rainfall patterns. He also addressed the worrying sea-rising level which has an important effect on cultural heritage in coastal areas.

The institutional addresses were followed by three panel discussions: 1) Challenges for cultural and natural heritage in the era of climate crisis: What is to be expected and what to be done?; 2) Challenges for cultural and natural heritage in the era of climate crisis: What is to be expected and what to be done?; and 3) Challenges and prospects on management of cultural and natural heritage in the context of the climate crisis. Europa Nostra Secretary General Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailovic contributed to the third and last panel.

The panel “Challenges and prospects on management of cultural and natural heritage in the context of the climate crisis” was moderated by Professor Jeffrey Sachs, President of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University. It also included short presentations by Evangelos Gerasopoulos, Research Director of the National Observatory of Athens, Teresa Patricio, President of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), Yana Gevorgyan, Secretariat Director of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), and Alexandra Mitsotakis, President of the World Human Forum.

Evangelos Gerasopoulos, Research Director of the National Observatory of Athens, presented a Survey designed to map the important heritage sites around the world affected by climate change as well as the strategies in place to tackle these problems and identify gaps. The survey identifies a wide range of threats and rates these from moderate to high. Among the impacts already identified are impacts on tourism and property costs. “The survey shows that almost 90% of countries already have an adaptation framework but very few have a dedicated strategy for protection of heritage,” he noted.

Teresa Patricio, President of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, reminded: “There is a tendency to focus on built heritage, but climate change is also affecting natural and intangible heritage”. She recalled that damaged monuments mean damaged communities, and highlighted some of the work carried out by ICOMOS in this field, including the pilot application of the Climate Vulnerability Index for World Heritage properties in Africa. Lastly, she stressed the importance of culture-based action which greatly helps communities to become more resilient.

Yana Gevorgyan, Secretariat Director of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), emphasised that climate action “needs to be data-driven and based on earth observation”. This data – including, for instance, collection of earth temperature information – can inform policy and decision-making and be used to create decision tools.

Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailovic, Secretary General of Europa Nostra, applauded the leadership of the Greek government in the climate and heritage movement. “Europa Nostra has been contributing to these efforts for the past two years,” she added. She then outlined the work carried out by Europa Nostra to mobilise the heritage community for transformative climate action, including the publication of the European Cultural Heritage Green Paper “Putting Europe’s shared heritage at the heart of the European Green Deal” and the recent appointment of the organisation as Regional Co-Chair of the Climate Heritage Network for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States. The Secretary General of Europa Nostra also stressed the need to build as many bridges as possible between civil society actors, governments and the world of research. “Higher level of understanding of the threats and impacts can only be achieved in this way,” she added. Lastly, Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailovic reminded that “the green transformation is fundamentally a cultural transformation” and encouraged all governments to duly include “the soothing virtues of cultural heritage” in their climate mitigation and adaptation strategies.

Lastly, Alexandra Mitsotakis, President of the World Human Forum, urged for a “civilisation change” using not only artificial intelligence but also “ancestral intelligence”.

Watch the event again here.

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