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24.11.2015 - Culture Sector

COP 21 - The Importance of Underwater Cultural Heritage for understanding Climate Change

On 3 December 2015 an Underwater Cultural Heritage Event will be held in the UNESCO Pavilion at Le Bourget in the Climate Generations area (Civil Society) of COP21.

It is entitled “Understanding the History of Climate Change and Sea Level Rise”, and will consist of a panel of experts discussing what Underwater Cultural Heritage can teach us about climate changes that took place in our past (10.30 am – 1 pm).

The experts and titles of their talks are:

  • Underwater cultural heritage research and protection: key to understanding sea level rise, Ulrike Guerin (UNESCO)
  • Underwater cultural heritage research: essential to understanding the development of climate change, Garry Momber (Director, Maritime Archaeology Trust, UK)
  • Global distribution of submerged prehistoric sites as indicators of rising sea level, (Nicholas Flemming (National Oceanography Centre, UK)
  • Projecting the climate future by understanding the past: Rescue historical data through maritime cultural heritage, Nan-Chin Chu (European Marine Board)

The event takes place from 10:30 am to 1:00 pm on the 3rd of December in the UNESCO Pavilion, Climate Generations Area, Le Bourget.

Underwater Cultural Heritage can provide vital evidence about how human populations have adapted to, or been affected by, climate changes in the past. For over 90% of the existence of humankind, the sea was about 40-130 meters lower than the level of today. A substantial amount of prehistoric and historic evidence of the life of our ancestors is now submerged. These remains are now underwater heritage, and provide an extremely important source of information about the first human civilizations, human origins, and also about climate change and its impact. Today, as we face sea level changes again, this heritage can help us put our current challenges into a wider context.

The submerged prehistoric landscape beneath the North Sea, known as Doggerland, is one such example. It shows us that rising sea levels in the past have forced migration and adaptation by Mesolithic human populations, and provides us with the only human stories from a culture lost to changing environmental conditions. Many other examples of the effects of climate changes can be found in other prehistoric submerged landscapes, sunken cities, and harbour and port structures, and there is much still to be learned from Underwater Cultural Heritage.

From 30th November to 11th of December Paris will host a climate change conference known as COP 21, or ‘Paris 2015’. It is the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It aims to produce a new international agreement to keep climate change below 2°C.

Contact: u.guerin(at)unesco.org  

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