Dr Nicholas Simpson, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI) was handpicked to participate in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) inaugural meeting on culture, heritage and climate change earlier in December.
The virtual international meeting, established in collaboration with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), kicked off on Monday, 6 December, and concluded on Friday, 10 December. The event puts together scientists and experts from around the world to explore linkages between culture and heritage, climate science and climate action. The objective of the event is to advance heritage and culture-based actions for climate-change adaptation and carbon mitigation.
“I am very excited to be a part of this meeting, [and to] explore this important topic. I look forward to understanding the impacts and risks from climate change on heritage, as well as exploring the role of cultural heritage in climate action,” Dr Simpson said.
Simpson is the lead author on a white paper that explores the impact and risk posed by climate change to heritage. His and other research papers formed part of the discussions during the week-long event.
Threats and opportunities
Climate change represents one of the greatest threats to culture and heritage – fires, floods and droughts, as well as the loss of living heritage practices and traditions, are just a few examples. And culture in particular has the potential to provide creative solutions to mitigate these mounting challenges.
“Culture and heritage are invaluable resources that provide solutions and must be fully recognised and engaged in effective climate action.”
According to a joint press release issued by UNESO, IPCC and ICOMOS, traditional pre-carbon land- and water-management practices can provide a roadmap to post-carbon futures, while cultural practices and heritage places serve as psychological and physical refuges for communities during and after emergencies. And yet, culture and heritage have received limited attention from global climate science and responses thus far.
“Culture and heritage are invaluable resources that provide solutions and must be fully recognised and engaged in effective climate action. UNESCO is delighted to join hands with other institutions to further this important goal,” said Jyoti Hosagrahar, the deputy director at UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre.
The meeting brought together a gender-balanced group of more than 100 experts from 45 countries across different regions, each of whom brings research, expertise and insights from wide disciplines. The meeting also aimed to establish the scientific merit of integrating cultural dimensions in climate action through three key areas: vulnerability and understanding risks, intangible cultural heritage, diverse knowledge systems and climate change, and the role of cultural and natural heritage for climate action.
Delegates in attendance also had the opportunity to present their own research, and the event line-up included public-facing events on the Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The meeting was an important step towards assessing the links between culture, heritage and climate-change responses, and served as a catalyst for new research projects and publications on culture, heritage and climate action in advance of the IPCC’s upcoming Seventh Assessment cycle and beyond.
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