Action 9: Observatory on culture/cultural heritage and climate change in the urban framework

  • Leïla Morais profile
    Leïla Morais
    20 July 2020 - updated 1 week ago
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Climate change is a global challenge that is increasingly influencing every aspect of our lives. Its impact on cultural heritage is becoming more and more obvious. In urban settings, climate change first and foremost impacts urban landscapes and built heritage, but its adverse consequences might hit all kinds of tangible and intangible heritage.

Arts, culture and cultural heritage, on the other hand, offer enormous potential to strengthen resilience, to drive climate action, to support transitions to sustainable development, stimulate social awareness and to encourage participation.

Cities can benefit greatly from unleashing such potential. Nevertheless, concrete common measures have not been conceived yet.


While the Workplan for Culture 2019-2022, adopted by the EU Council in December 2018[1], includes for the first time the topic of climate adaptation in its first priority “Sustainability of cultural heritage”, and the cultural dimension of sustainable development was recently addressed by a Council Resolution adopted in November 2019[2], various initiatives are being undertaken by transnational co-operations[3], individual Member States[4], professional associations, such as ICOMOS[5], civil society organisations, such as Europa Nostra[6], NGOs, universities and heritage preservation offices established the Climate Heritage Network[7]. In order to make arts, culture and heritage part of the solution in tackling climate change, there is still little evidence that the current main global, EU and national policy frameworks addressing sustainable development and climate change[8] are taking culture and cultural heritage into account, if not indirectly.

Reasoning in terms of ecosystems and understanding and activating interactions of arts, culture and cultural heritage with other sectorial policies is a challenge not yet met, although the mainstreaming of culture and cultural heritage is an increasingly successful practice; this is particularly important for policies addressing climate change and sustainable development, and is of specific relevance at urban level.

Good practice approaches emerge at the urban level: Bordeaux, for example, is a case study for balancing the preservation of its cultural heritage and its sustainable development, taking into account the UNESCO management plan[9].

However, the implementation of integrated climate adaption plans including culture and heritage in the local planning context is a fragmented experience.

The European Green Deal fosters a “green” reconversion of urban areas, but there is no common understanding yet on how to deal with urban cultural heritage and the protection of cultural heritage elements against natural disasters. A concrete risk arises that cultural heritage values might get lost in the “greenification” process.

We propose an action that will help to contribute create the conditions to avoid this.

While it would be advantageous if the Green Deal counted on the potential enshrined in cultural heritage, we intend to ensure that:

  • the EU cultural heritage sector will be able to take advantage of the European Green Deal and related national policies in order to improve energy efficiency and foster climate adaptation of the urban built heritage;
  • risks of loss of cultural heritage values in the framework of the renovation wave and “greenification” policies and programmes are prevented, and the safety and preservation of cultural built heritage in seismic areas is also considered.

An EU-wide structured, coordinated approach by national, regional and local governments in dialogue with researchers, professionals and the civil society would provide a necessary productive interaction among the various levels of government, enable the collection of knowledge and good practice, as well as the development of guidelines and recommendations, thus offering guidance to urban authorities when addressing climate change across all policies and actions that impact on or could benefit from the untapped potential of cultural heritage.


Building on the multi-level, multi-stakeholder framework provided by the Urban agenda for the EU and on previous experience by other UAEU partnerships (Climate Adaptation and Sustainable Land Use in the first place) this action aims at bringing together national, regional and local authorities, together with the research sector, stakeholders, professionals and civil society organisations, in order to analyze needs, risks and opportunities for culture and cultural heritage in the framework of climate change challenges and the European Green Deal, and at designing a European observatory/laboratory on culture and cultural heritage and climate change, able to stimulate and share visions and practices and start experimental actions on climate change, culture and cultural heritage.

A main focus will be on the challenges of the implementation in the local planning context of integrated climate adaption plans respectful of culture and heritage, for which research and analyses of EU and national policies and regulations are needed, as are recommendations and guidelines addressing risk management of urban cultural heritage in climate adaptation and urban reconversion plans and on the use of EU funding for implementing energy efficiency of historic buildings following an integrated approach, respecting the values of cultural heritage and benefitting from the potential of culture and cultural heritage for climate action. Moreover, solutions for incorporating structural safety with energy efficiency measures would additionally ensure safeguarding cultural heritage from natural disasters to preserve assets for future generations.

The final product will be the completion of the background and preparatory work for the establishment of the European observatory on culture/cultural heritage and climate change, by:

  • mapping a policy and regulatory framework, main actors and networks,
  • collecting relevant documentation (scientific literature, policy papers, technical documents), main initiatives on the ground,
  • exploring the potential for culture/heritage driven innovation and for the contribution of digital technologies.

The scope of the Observatory will be identified, its structure and governance outlined, and its network developed. Finally, needs to be covered (in terms of recommendations, training, data collection, etc) will be identified, first actions addressing such needs will be experimentally outlined and, if possible, their implementation will be started.


This action consists of a series of analyses, mappings and data collections, aimed at problem setting and at creating the background for a European multi-level, multi-stakeholder observatory on culture/cultural heritage and climate change, able to outline key aspects advocating for the transversal involvement of culture and cultural heritage in policies and programmes addressing sustainable development and climate change at the EU, national, regional and urban/local levels. Moreover, it will start the collection and dissemination of information and knowledge, good practices, studies and research on the ground, digital tools and supporting technologies.

Main principles will be creating synergies, avoiding the duplication of efforts, capitalising on lessons learned, experiences on the ground and work already done.

Synergies will be established with the Open Method of Coordination Group of Member States Experts on “Strengthening Cultural Heritage Resilience for Climate Change”, that will kick off in the first quarter of 2021 and will publish its report in the last quarter of 2022.

The action will be articulated in two interlinked activities that could mostly run in parallel: the first one aimed at mapping the context and actors, the second one aimed at outlining scope, functions, structure, network and actions of a European observatory.

Activity 1: Mapping the context

1.1 Understanding the policy and regulatory framework

  • Mapping the policy framework at the global, EU and national/local level and understanding interconnections. Outlining the policy framework is crucial, given its complexity, multi-disciplinarity and richness of systemic interactions. Among the aims of this exercise will be identifying areas where culture and cultural heritage are not yet properly considered, whereas there is a potential to do so. Particular attention will be devoted to impacts on the local and urban levels.
    • Identification of policies addressing hazards, threats and vulnerabilities of tangible and intangible cultural heritage in relation to climate change and natural disasters;
    • Identification of policy areas potentially benefitting from contributions by arts and culture and cultural heritage in order to successfully address transformative policies, climate change and climate adaptation.
  • Mapping the existing regulatory framework at the EU and national levels, including for the energy efficiency of historical buildings and climate adaptation of the built heritage.

1.2 Understanding the context, opportunities, needs and boundaries

The main aim of this exercise is developing solid and sound knowledge about frameworks, actors and initiatives on the ground and identifying areas where additional work is required and there is unexpressed potential for culture/cultural heritage driven innovation.

  • Mapping EU programmes in the Multi - Annual Financial Framework MFF 2021-2027 relevant for addressing climate adaptation, energy efficiency, risk management, resilience of cultural heritage. This exercise will have a two-tiered approach and focus:
    • Programmes taking cultural heritage into account (starting point will be the mapping exercise prepared by DG EAC in 2017, in relation to the Commission Communication “Towards an integrated approach to cultural heritage for Europe”)[10]
    • Programmes addressing climate change and sustainable development, “greenification”, building renovation, energy efficiency and climate adaptation. The focus will be on identifying if such programmes turn sufficient attention towards safeguarding built heritage, preserving values embedded in historic and cultural heritage and managing urban landscape. Identification of potential risks for cultural heritage values at large range.
  • Mapping main actors in the field at the global[11], European[12] and national levels.
  • Collecting existing recommendations and guidelines at the EU, national and local level and good practice solutions for climate adaptation of the historic heritage.
  • Mapping main competence centres, studies and projects addressing culture/cultural heritage and climate change (desktop research, interviews).
  • Identification of existing data sets, including those produced by satellite observation, e.g. via the Copernicus programme.
  • Collecting relevant outcomes of main EU, national and other projects addressing climate change and arts/culture/heritage challenges (such as STORM, Safeguarding Cultural Heritage through Technical and Organisational Resources Management, CHERISH, Climate, Heritage and Environments of Reefs, Islands and Headlands, iRESIST+ Innovative Seismic and Energy Retrofitting of the Existing Building Stock[13], the Noah’s Ark project, etc. Methodology: desktop research).
  • Mapping citizenship behaviours and approaches, as well as community of practice initiatives aimed at monitoring and managing climate change impacts on urban cultural heritage (desktop research, interviews). Collecting innovative solutions and examples of applications of digital technologies.
  • Collecting main arts initiatives in the field of climate change, aimed at raising awareness, inspiring behavioural engagement and societal change, developing visions and the imaginary for possible futures, inducing reflections. Their contribution is crucial as they address the emotional and perceptive aspects preceding and accompanying cognitive accessibility, thus potentially causing community mobilization. From 1982 Joseph Beuys “7000 Oaks - Stadtverwaldung statt Stadtverwaltung”, most branches of the arts, from land art to digital, media and visual arts, from performing arts to literature, addressed the topic of ecology and environment protection, and lately explicitly climate change, global warming and climate justice. Examples range from the Climate art project[14], to ArtCOP21 to Broto: Art-Climate-Science community of artists and scientists.

Activity 2: Shaping the observatory

This phase will benefit from the experience of the partnerships Sustainable Land Use and Climate Adaptation and from advice by selected main actors identified in the framework of activity 1.

It will also rely on requirements expressed by members of the Partnership: in the first place, but not limited to, those participating in the action.

2.1 Identifying scope and actors

  • Clustering: establishing collaborations with the Climate Adaptation and Sustainable Land Use Partnerships
  • Collecting advice from main actors identified throughout Activity 1 (methodology: interviews)
  • Building the network: identifying partners and establishing contacts, including with URBACT’s C-change network, the JPI Cultural Heritage and Global Change, etc.
  • Outlining the possible scope of a EU Observatory on culture/cultural heritage and climate change
  • Identifying disciplinary areas and sectorial policies to be covered and related expertise needed

2.2 Outlining functions

  • Identifying information, training and capacity-building needs, both for professionals in the field of cultural heritage preservation and for professionals addressing climate change in urban settings, and the potential role of the Observatory for addressing this.
  • Identifying areas where recommendations, guidelines and common models are needed, and starting their development.
  • Exploring the possible need of further data collections for improving the monitoring and management of cultural heritage exposed to climate change.
  • Establishing an interactive web platform disseminating the collected resources and the outcome of the action and supporting further networking and interaction with professional and civic audiences.
  • Possible customization of the online policy tool for Cultural and Creative Cities, currently under development by JRC, to map city-level policy initiatives related to culture / cultural heritage and climate change.
  • Exploring the need for incorporating structural safety within climate change adaptation measures, while preserving the values and character of cultural heritage assets based on results from JRC’s iRESIST+ project of JRC.

Parners involved

Action Leader: Italy (MiBACT)

Members: City of Bordeaux, Flanders Heritage, Silesia Region, Cyprus, URBACT, with the support of ACT (IT)




[3] The Nordic cooperation, for example, published already in 2010 the report “Climate Change and Cultural Heritage in the Nordic Countries”

[4] Greece, for example, in 2019 organised the Conference “Climate change impact on cultural heritage”

[5] In 2017 ICOMOS established a working group on climate change and heritage, that in 2019 launched the report “The futures of our pasts: engaging cultural heritage in climate action”

[6] Europa Nostra is planning the launch of a “European Heritage Green Paper” focussing on the role and potential of cultural heritage in achieving the ambitions of the European Green Deal


[8] from the UNFCCC Paris Agreement to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development - in particular, SDGs 11, 12, 13 - to the European Green Deal, to national strategies for sustainable development)



[11] Relevant initiatives were undertaken by UNESCO, OECD (,below%20to%20find%20out%20more.) and other global actors

[12] Action by Council of Europe will be taken into account, from the EUR-OPA Major Hazard Agreement to the Steering Committee for Culture, Heritage and Landscape

[13] The iRESIST+ project at the European Commission´s Joint Research Centre, more information at:


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