ROCKing COP24: Cultural heritage in a changing climate

In December 2018, Julie’s Bicycle held a panel discussion in Katowice, Poland as a COP24 EU Side Event, together with ROCK partners EUROCITIES and ECO4CLIM, and the European Federation of Engineering Consultancy Associations. Project Manager Lucy Latham reflects on the event, which explored cultural heritage as a driver for climate innovation and sustainability.

Climate change poses a severe threat to cultural heritage across the world. Yet heritage sites are not merely sites of environmental destruction – they are also agents of positive environmental change. Culture heritage holds opportunities for climate action, both mitigation and adaptation. As UNESCO tells us in ‘World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate’, well-preserved forests and coastal habitats help store carbon and provide vital ecosystem services, including natural protection against storms and floods. At the same time, they also act as learning laboratories for the study and mitigation of climate impacts, acting as sites to test resilient management strategies. Heritage is key to interpreting the societal significance of climate change, and climate mitigation and adaptation strategies must both learn from human history and look forward to consider tomorrow’s heritage if they are to succeed. As David C Harvey says: “All human relationships with climate change operate through a lens of heritage.”

With this in mind, Julie’s Bicycle embarked on a trip to Katowice, Poland to represent cultural heritage in the fight against climate change alongside the global COP24 talks, as part of the EU-funded Horizon 2020 ROCK project. A coalition of ROCK partners (EUROCITIES, Ecopreneurs for the Climate (ECO4CLIM), and Julie’s Bicycle) together with the European Federation of Engineering Consultancy Associations (EFCA), jointly held a panel discussion on 14th December. Titled “Urban frameworks reinforcing cultural heritage as a driver for climate innovation and sustainability”, the panel discussion explored the themes of progressive cultural policy, operational sustainability, localised value chains and stimulating environmental entrepreneurship. We were also joined by Dr. Sandeep Sengupta (Global Coordinator of the Climate Change Portfolio at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN) who discussed Nature-based Solutions; and Pietro Ceciarini, a social entrepreneur and founder of BackBO, a “circollaborative” lab where people transform their disposable packaging into valuable items and rewards.

Interesting points of discussion over the day included:

  • How do we navigate between preservation and development, and conservation and innovation? Heritage is increasingly employed as a vehicle for development by way of tourism. Given the carbon impacts of travel, is this an internal contradiction – or are there truly sustainable ways to govern heritage sites of international interest?
  • How do we empower and inform cultural heritage sites and actors so that they integrate climate science, mitigation, adaptation, and communication into their management structures and are recognised as platforms for environmental action?
  • What cultural practices are now incommensurate with a 1.5 degree world – what could or should we let go, and how do we start having that conversation ethically and democratically?

The phenomena of climate and environmental destruction is occurring over such a wide range of geophysical and sociocultural contexts that it is simply too big to be dealt with by any one institution, or through any one discipline. In order to act with the necessary conviction and timeliness climate change requires, we must adopt mechanisms to share learnings and best practices.

While our generous audience represented a range of environmental expertise, none had ever collaborated with arts and culture. We still need to make the case for our sector’s incredible leadership in generating new sustainable environmental, social, economic models and discourses, and our capacity for seeding change. This is where ROCK – a network of historic city centres acting as laboratories to demonstrate Cultural Heritage advancing sustainable urban development – comes in as such a powerful project.

With only 12 years to prevent the worst effects of climate change, it has never been so essential for the sector to demonstrate cultural leadership – in conserving the past, engaging us in the present, and shaping a sustainable future.

Do check out ECO4CLIM’s more recap of the discussion, which includes some video resources, here.

Banner Image: Photo by Iswanto Arif