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Climate Change

Climate Change and World Heritage

© Simon Berger

Updating of the “Policy Document on the impacts of Climate Change on World Heritage properties”

An online consultation concerning the updating
of the “Policy Document on the Impacts of Climate Change on World Heritage properties” took place from 30 December 2019 to 31 January 2020. This consultation is now closed but the questionnaire is available below:

English French

A summary of the results
of this online consultation is available below:

English French

Following this consultation and a review of the available literature on the subject, an international Technical Advisory Group of experts, established on this occasion, met four times online to provide guidance and make proposals throughout the updating process. The draft updated Policy Document will be examined by the World Heritage Committee at its extended 44th session in June/July 2021
(see below for further details)

The updating of this Policy Document benefits from funding
by The Netherlands Funds-in-Trust (NFiT) 
World Heritage properties are affected by the impacts of climate change at present and in the future. Their continued preservation requires understanding these impacts to their Outstanding Universal Value and responding to them effectively.

World Heritage properties also harbour options for society to mitigate and adapt to climate change through the ecosystem benefits, such as water and climate regulation, that they provide and the carbon that is stored in World Heritage forest sites. Cultural heritage, on the other hand, can convey traditional knowledge that builds resilience for change to come and leads us to a more sustainable future.

World Heritage properties serve as climate change observatories to gather and share information on applied and tested monitoring, mitigation and adaptation practices. The global network of World Heritage also helps raise awareness on the impacts of climate change on human societies and cultural diversity, biodiversity and ecosystem services, and the world’s natural and cultural heritage.

Policy and strategy

Institutional frameworks for climate action within the World Heritage Convention

The issue of the impacts of climate change on World Heritage natural and cultural properties was brought to the attention of the World Heritage Committee in 2005 by a group of concerned organisations and individuals.

The Committee requested (Decision 29 COM 7B.a) the World Heritage Centre, in collaboration with the Convention’s Advisory Bodies, interested States Parties and the petitioners, to convene a broad working group of experts to review the nature and scale of the risks arising from climate change and prepare a strategy and report for dealing with the issue. In taking this decision the Committee noted ‘… that the impacts of climate change are affecting many and are likely to affect many more World Heritage properties, both natural and cultural, in the years to come’.

The group of experts prepared a report on “Predicting and Managing the Effects of climate change on World Heritage’, as well as a ‘Strategy to Assist States Parties to the Convention to Implement Appropriate Management Responses”. The Committee reviewed and endorsed these two documents at its 30th session (Vilnius, 2006) (Decision 30 COM 7.1), and requested all States Parties to implement the strategy so as to protect the outstanding universal values, integrity and authenticity of the World Heritage properties from the adverse impacts of climate change.

The Committee further requested the World Heritage Centre to develop, through a consultative process, a draft policy document on the impacts of climate change on World Heritage properties to be presented at the 31st session, and discussed subsequently at the General Assembly of States Parties in 2007.

Accordingly, a Working Group meeting, comprising several experts and representatives of convention secretariats, was convened by the World Heritage Centre at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on 5-6 February 2007. The draft ‘Policy Document on the Impacts of Climate Change on World Heritage Properties’ was prepared following this meeting and reviewed by various experts, practitioners, as well as representatives of international organizations and the civil society. This draft Policy Document was discussed at the 31st session of the World Heritage Committee (Christchurch, New Zealand, 2007).

The views expressed at the Committee were incorporated, and the revised Policy Document was presented to the General Assembly of States Parties at its 16th session (UNESCO, 2007). The General Assembly adopted the Policy Document and strongly recommended its use by all concerned. It also encouraged UNESCO and the Advisory Bodies to disseminate widely the Policy Document, the Report and the Strategy, including to the general public, and to promote their application.

Since then, climate change has been a recurring conservation issue affecting the World Heritage properties around the world. In its Decision 39 COM 7 taken at its 39th session (Bonn, 2015), the World Heritage Committee acknowledged that World Heritage properties are increasingly affected by climate change, and encouraged States Parties to participate in the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December 2015, with a view to achieving a universal climate agreement and mobilize global climate action on the ground. The Committee also recalled its Decision 31 COM 7.1, adopted at its 31st session (Christchurch, 2007) in which it adopted a “carbon neutral policy, in view of its application for all future sessions, to the extent feasible”.

Updating of the 2007 Policy Document on the impacts of Climate Change on World Heritage properties

Since the adoption of the Policy Document, numerous reports on the state of conservation of World Heritage properties located in all regions were presented to the World Heritage Committee in relation to climate change impacts (see http://whc.unesco.org/en/soc).  Aware that knowledge related to adaptation and mitigation to climate change has drastically increased over the past 10 years, the World Heritage Committee requested the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies (Decision 40 COM 7) to periodically review and update the Policy Document, so as to make available the most current knowledge and technology on the subject to guide the decisions and actions of the World Heritage community. 

The World Heritage Centre developed a project, with the objective to propose the updated Policy Document for consideration by the World Heritage Committee and to ensure its widespread communication and dissemination to all stakeholders concerned. The end purpose of this updated Policy Document is to provide States Parties with up-to-date climate-related knowledge, data and information services and policy advice that will better equip them towards the reinforced protection of the World Heritage properties and ensure their sustainability.

At its 42nd session (Manama, 2018), the World Heritage Centre presented a progress report on this project to the World Heritage Committee, which expressed its gratitude to the State Party of the Netherlands for its generous support to the updating of the Policy Document (Decision 42 COM 7, para.32).

At its 43rd session (Baku, 2019), the World Heritage Centre presented another progress report on this project to the World Heritage Committee, which noted with appreciation the initiatives already taken by the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies to advance work on updating the Policy Document and to conduct a widespread online consultation with States Parties, Advisory Bodies and civil society (Decision 43 COM 7.2).

The World Heritage Centre, with the assistance of the Advisory Bodies, identified two senior consultants to assist in this tasks and established an international Technical Advisory Group of experts in the fields of natural and cultural heritage, climate change, with a sound understanding of the processes of the Convention, with the main objectives to review a draft updated Policy Document and provide inputs. The Chairpersons of all six UNESCO Electoral Groups were consulted and invited to nominate two regional representatives and up to two observers to be part of this Technical Advisory Group. In addition to this fair representation of States Parties, this geographically and gender-balanced group also included representatives of the Advisory Bodies and the World Heritage Centre.

The Technical Advisory Group assisted in defining a clear roadmap on the lead up to the presentation of the updated Policy Document to the Committee, and met several times online to review the draft updated Policy Document prepared by the two experts, to address the potential different viewpoints or approaches and to provide further guidance (both during the meetings and in writing, as needed). The various online meetings took place on 27-29 April, 4 June, 15-17 July and 22 September 2020.

As part of the updating process, the World Heritage Centre also launched a wide online consultation of all stakeholders of the World Heritage Convention. This questionnaire was widely circulated to the World Heritage stakeholders, including States Parties, site managers, local communities, indigenous peoples, academics, NGOs, civil society, Advisory Bodies and the World Heritage Centre (also see https://whc.unesco.org/en/news/2074/). The aim of this consultation was to gather feedback and comments from key World Heritage stakeholders of the Convention on this crucial matter. They were indeed invited to share their views, expectations and best practice examples, and were also requested to flag the importance of several aspects for their possible inclusion into the updated Policy Document. Over 360 contributions were submitted (see above for further details). 

Tools & Guidance

World Heritage resources
for responding to climate change

UNESCO has been at the forefront of exploring and managing the impacts of climate change on World Heritage. In 2006, under the guidance of the World Heritage Committee, it prepared a report on Predicting and Managing the Effects of Climate Change on World Heritage (2007), followed by a compilation of Case Studies on Climate Change and World Heritage, and a Policy Document on the Impacts of Climate Change on World Heritage Properties in 2008. In May 2014, it published a practical guide to Climate Change Adaptation for Natural World Heritage Sites and continues to build the capacity of site managers to deal with climate change.

Climate Change and World Heritage

Report on predicting and managing the impacts of climate change on World Heritage and Strategy to assist States Parties to implement appropriate management responses

The World Heritage Review n°42, 74 and 77
have focused on issues of climate change and resilience.

See also
Reducing Disasters Risks at World Heritage Properties and World Heritage and Sustainable Development.

Capacity Building

Building capacities for resilient World Heritage

UNESCO builds capacities of States Parties and other stakeholders to manage climate change impacts on World Heritage effectively and sustainably. The main aim of these efforts is to increase the capacity of these properties to continue to convey their Outstanding Universal Value and support sustainable development.

Management of resilient World Heritage properties requires designing and implementing appropriate adaptation measures, complemented by activities that contribute to disaster risk management, climate change mitigation and sustainable development.

In 2014, UNESCO supported capacity building of World Heritage site managers in Latin America and Africa on climate change adaptation for natural World Heritage based on the methodological guide developed. Four natural sites (2 in India and 2 in Kenya) took part as pilot sites in the preparation of the guide. These activities received financial support from the Netherlands Funds-in-Trust, the Flanders Funds-in-Trust and the Government of Belgium.

UNESCO has also supported specific World Heritage sites on climate change adaptation and mitigation activities, including in Peru and Indonesia.

Decisions (10)
Show 43COM 7.2
Show 42COM 7
Show 41COM 7
Show 40COM 7
Show 39COM 7
Show 33COM 7C
Show 32COM 7A.32
Show 16GA 10
Show 30COM 7.1
Show 29COM 7B.a