Cultural heritage and climate change

Knowledge and skills of the water measurers of the foggaras or water bailiffs of Touat and Tidikelt Read more on the element
© Rachid, Bellil, 2016

Climate change is a largely irreversible and often destructive process inflicting damage on the cultural heritage and wellbeing of communities, groups and individuals worldwide. Intangible cultural heritage has a dual function in all emergencies, including climate change. Intangible cultural heritage can play an important role as a source of resilience, recovery, preparedness and prevention measures to reduce vulnerability and exposure to risks associated with climate change, and in the mitigation of carbon emissions. At the same time, the viability of intangible cultural heritage and its bearers, and the resources they require are fundamentally at risk from climate change directly, or from the multiplier effects of climate change on other conditions for viability.

The relationship between intangible cultural heritage and climate change has gained increasing recognition in recent years. The Convention’s Operational Directives recognize the contribution of intangible cultural heritage knowledge and practices to strengthening community-based resilience to natural disasters and climate change (Chapter VI). Many expressions of living heritage serve not only to transmit knowledge about changing climatic patterns and their impact on the natural environment, but also shape a certain relationship to the natural environment, often fostering notions of respect custodianship and connectivity towards the environment. Appreciating the diversity of these values is key to developing effective and sustainable strategies for climate action.

In line with the Operational Directives and the Committee’s decisions (Decisions 15.COM 8, 16.COM 5.b and 17.COM 13) the Secretariat has been developing a thematic initiative on safeguarding intangible cultural heritage and climate change. The thematic initiative has comprised:

  • Initial preparation: A desk-based study and research bibliography (English) to map existing resources relating to intangible cultural heritage and climate change and where they may overlap;
  • Global Survey: A global survey launched at the beginning of October 2022 and addressed to more than 1,000 stakeholders of the Convention, including national authorities, accredited non-governmental organizations, category 2 centres and community contact persons for elements inscribed on the Lists;
  • Expert consultation: A peer review process undertaken in 2023 with experts in the field of intangible cultural heritage, disaster risk reduction and climate change to review the results of the desk-based study and identify any gaps.

In December 2023, the Committee invited the Secretariat to pursue its efforts through the organization of an expert meeting to contribute with proposals for Sates and other relevant stakeholders on safeguarding intangible cultural heritage in the context of climate change (Decision 18.COM 12). The results of the expert meeting will be presented to the nineteenth session of the Intergovernmental Committee taking place in Asunción, Paraguay from 2 to 7 December 2024.