For the first time, an EU expert group has undertaken a systematic survey of the role cultural heritage plays in European climate change policy and highlighted how it can contribute to a climate-friendly future. Despite the threat climate change imposes on cultural heritage, climate change policy in Europe and its member states shows significant shortcomings in the consideration of cultural heritage, according to the final report. It recommends that policymakers place more focus on cultural heritage. When implementing the Green Deal, for example, greater attention should be paid to the contribution of cultural heritage to innovation and sustainable living. The report was prepared by a group of 50 experts from 25 EU and three associated countries and Prof Christian Hanus from the University for Continuing Education Krems taking part.
At the heart of the report, titled "Strengthening cultural heritage resilience for climate change : where the European Green Deal meets cultural heritage," 83 case studies demonstrate how cultural heritage has successfully contributed to climate change mitigation. Besides showing effective ways against climate crisis impacts, the studies present cultural heritage as a pool from which to draw knowledge for climate protection innovation.
Innovative potential of cultural heritage is shown by Burgtheater ventilation system
Since its opening in 1888, Vienna's Burgtheater has successfully used the ventilation system developed in the 19th century for cooling and heating purposes without needing to invest a great deal in energy or complicated building services. The historic building's system is a benchmark for the use of future-proof, sustainable and low-energy building ventilation, even at rising temperatures.
The grassland irrigation used in the Netherlands since the 14th century is another showcase for the innovative power cultural heritage has to offer. Grassland irrigation is a form of agricultural technology in which grassland is artificially fertilized using lime and minerals from rivers and sources through flowing water. This small-scale irrigation is optimal for maintaining biodiversity and preventing meadows from drying out.
Among the good practices listed in the report is a WebGIS tool for mapping risks to cultural heritage from climate change-related natural disasters. The tool was developed with the University for Continuing Education Krems in cooperation with the EU project ProteCHt2save.
Awareness raising, research, and transdisciplinary collaboration
"Built cultural heritage, collected cultural assets, as well as entire cultural landscapes are particularly affected by the impacts of the climate crisis. Therefore it is urgent to address these particularities when developing European and national climate change mitigation plans. If cultural heritage is understood not only in terms of its worthiness of protection and specificity, but also as a source of knowledge for innovation, not only cultural heritage but also climate protection will have won. This is impressively demonstrated by the case studies in the final report," says Prof Christian Hanus.
According to the expert from the University for Continuing Education Krems, the built cultural heritage in particular is still undervalued here in its contribution to a CO2-neutral future of settlement areas. In addition to further research, awareness-raising and transdisciplinary cooperation between science and practice are needed in order to make optimal use of the potential of cultural heritage for climate protection and to tailor action plans to the special needs of cultural heritage, said Hanus, who represented Austria as a scientific expert in the EU Expert Group "Strengthening Cultural Heritage Resilience for Climate Change" alongside the Ministry of Culture.
First Expert Group of its kind
In 2021, the Expert Group, chaired by Dr. Johanna Leissner of Fraunhofer Brussels, was convened by the European Commission, Directorate General for Culture, and consisted of 50 experts from 25 EU Member States, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. Academia and public administration were the areas the experts represented. Convened under the Open Method for Coordination, the Expert Group provided a collaborative framework for EU Member State experts to address climate change and European cultural heritage conservation issues, identify existing gaps and structural deficits in climate change policy, and develop recommendations for policy makers.
European Commission, Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture, Strengthening cultural heritage resilience for climate change : where the European Green Deal meets cultural heritage, Publications Office of the European Union, 2022