Protection of cultural heritage against climate change

SoPHIA focuses the Newsletter 9 mainly on protection of cultural heritage from diverse angles, one of the themes considered in the CH impact assessment model developed by the project.

Bracing ourselves and offering protection to cultural heritage sites and monuments against climate change is a task like no other

During last summer many regions in Europe became acutely aware of the single most important threat to human civilization, climate change. 2021 has been a year with record high temperatures, resulting in wildfires that destroyed vast forest land in Southern Europe, and in extreme floods in Central Europe that resulted in several death tolls, most in Germany and Belgium. Floods led to widespread power outages, forced evacuations and damaged infrastructure and agriculture, and bushfires destroyed vast forests killing wildlife in them, and properties.

These unprecedented events couldn’t leave the cultural heritage sector unscathed. Germany's floods filled the Wuppertal opera house with one and a half metres of water, and severely damaged cemeteries and many other sites of major cultural significance in July 2021. A month later the World Heritage site of the Archaeological Site of Olympia in Greece was threatened by encroaching fires that raged in close proximity to the site. These summer events coincided with the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2021) report which is alarming and scientific consensus also suggests that these types of events will become commonplace in a future, warmer climate. Therefore, we should brace ourselves, strategize, and take action.

It becomes imperative to focus on strategies that incorporate sustainability, resilience and green management, in order to withstand and survive the ever so frequent occurrence of extreme hazards. Climate resilience, in particular, is the adaptive capacity for a socio-ecological system to: (1) absorb stresses and maintain its functionality in the face of external stresses caused by climate change and (2) adapt, reorganize, and evolve into configurations that improve the sustainability of the system, leaving it better prepared for future climate change impacts. Protection in terms of safeguarding against harmful practices as well as managing the outcomes of existing damage, becomes a complex and expensive task which nevertheless cannot be overlooked. Bold measures of prevention should be taken, and a special budget for battling the disasters when they hit must be allocated.

But in reality, mitigating climate change effects is the same for both people and monuments. When it comes to significant cultural monuments in these adverse circumstances we realize the interdependence between the landscape, communities, and the monument itself. It is a holistic approach that is still missing, and the entire context that a monument belongs to that we should be looking for. Beyond human creations of historic value and their context, monument protection needs to also address environmental protection, the variety of everyday activities that gather around it, safety and the well-being of the community it belongs to. We are being reminded by these events that the fate of humanity and of humanity’s cultural heritage are bound to be one and the same goal. They require putting in place short term and long-term policies and strategies so as to better respond to the new challenges from the viewpoint of sustainability, resilience and green management.

NTUA team

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