Why is heritage so important in the context of climate change?

Cultural heritage shapes our values and beliefs; it is a reflection of who we are and drives our motivations and actions. How we respond to climate change is therefore influenced by our cultural heritage. This may be directly through what we choose to believe and how we may or may not take action to reduce our impact on the planet. Or it may also be a positive tool that can lead to a better understanding of climate change and the actions we can take to protect ourselves, our communities and our shared future.

Climate change is not new. Our planet has warmed and cooled many times over thousands of years. However, anthropogenic (human induced) climate change (which we are experiencing now) is new because it is extremely rapid and driven by us pumping vast amounts of Green House Gases into the atmosphere. Never before has the planet experienced such a rapid change in temperature in such a short amount of time.

Cultural heritage can therefore provide a record of the nature and the effects of past climate change and other disasters, and our responses to them. It gives a valuable perspective on how climate change and other disasters have been experienced in the past by different members of society. It can provide an essential human dimension to our understanding of climate change that can complement data from the physical sciences. That can help us to understand the strengths and limitations of different responses to disaster and hopefully help us become more resilient in the future.

Cultural heritage is itself vulnerable to climate change and other hazards. Both tangible (e.g. buildings, paintings, or materials) and intangible (e.g. beliefs, practices and knowledge) heritage can be exposed to different threats and it can be lost. How we value our heritage and therefore protect or accept its loss. But these decisions should be made in collaboration with the people who live, embody and interact with that heritage.

Geologists say that ‘the past is key to our future’, well, cultural heritage represents our past and our future and therefore is a critical element of how we understand the world and our impacts on it.

Watch this short video explaining the connection between cultural heritage and climate change.

What does heritage mean to you?

Before we get into more detail about climate change and cultural heritage, the short video below shares a diverse range of perspectives on heritage. We invite you to reflect on what heritage means to you.

Heritage and how it is valued is personal to each one of us, it shapes our thinking and influences our actions. It is our toolkit for survival during the current climate emergency.

Further readings & resources