UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage


ISH selected to participate in first ever UNESCO-IPCC-ICOMOS Meeting

6 December 2021

Strengthening synergies between culture and climate science in the common fight against climate change will be at the centre of this pivotal meeting.

Photo shows the cloud forest at Machuu Picchu, Peru, which has been negatively effected by climate change

The first ever meeting organised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) will take place from 6 to 10 December 2021.

The virtual International Co-sponsored Meeting on Culture, Heritage and Climate Change will bring together scientists and experts to explore links between culture and heritage, climate science and climate action. As a member of the Scientific Steering Committee, UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage Director Professor May Cassar CBE has been guiding the planning and development of the Meeting throughout 2021.

The objective is to advance heritage and culture-based actions for climate change adaptation and carbon mitigation. 

Climate change represents one of the greatest threats to culture and heritage today, from fires, floods, and droughts to the loss of living heritage practices and traditions. At the same time, culture has the potential to provide creative solutions and mitigation to these mounting challenges. 

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. Yet, culture and heritage have received limited attention in global climate science and responses thus far.

The meeting will bring together over one hundred, gender-balanced experts from 45 countries across all regions and will bring research, expertise, and insights from a wide range of disciplines. This meeting aims to establish a scientific case for integrating cultural dimensions in climate action through three key areas: 

  1. Vulnerability and understanding risks,

  2. Intangible cultural heritage, diverse knowledge systems and climate change,

  3. The role of cultural and natural heritage for climate action. 

In preparation for the event, three white papers have been commissioned to explore these axes and these will act as conversation starters for the event. ISH Lecturer in Heritage Data Science, Dr Scott Allan Orr is the co-lead on the White Paper ‘Impacts, vulnerability, and understanding risks of climate change for culture and heritage’. The White Papers serve as prompts for the meeting discussions and will be published in early 2022.

Participants will have the opportunity to present their own research at the Meeting. The meeting will include public-facing Panel events on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at which Professor May Cassar will be a Panelist in Wednesday’s event on Impacts. Details can be found on the project website.

Assessing the links between culture, heritage and climate change responses will also serve as a catalyst for new research, projects, and publications on culture, heritage, and climate action in advance of the IPCC’s upcoming 7th Assessment cycle, and beyond.

Dr Debra Roberts, Co-chair of Working Group II (impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability) at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said: 

Ambitious climate action is dependent on a whole-of-society response. This meeting will explore the critical cultural/natural heritage-climate change nexus and marks an important opportunity to mobilise knowledge that could help us create an equitable low carbon and climate resilient future.”


Image: Decay of Cloud Forest at Machu Picchu by Marielle Rivero Vazquez - shortlisted entry for 'Culture, Heritage and Climate Change' ISH Photo compeition 2021