Climate change and cultural heritage
31 March 2020

Cultural heritage is a non-renewable resource: what can we do to give a future to our past?

In Italy alone, there are around 30,000 flood risk cultural sites, 14,000 endangered by the intensification of hydrogeological events and 82% of those present on the Mediterranean coast are at risk of flooding.

After the last episodes related to Venice and Matera that brought the fragility of our cities of art to international attention, the Ministry has decided to create an ad hoc body.

It is also a first step towards that idea of ​​Civil Protection of Cultural Heritage long desired by the Minister, who only a few weeks ago reminded the UNESCO Director General, reiterating the need to act with internationally defined bodies, protocols and procedures.

Italy emerges as real excellence, being one of the few countries to have included cultural heritage in its National Strategy of Adaptation to Climate Change, but above all being one of the few nations to have a governmental structure (the Department of Civil Protection ) responsible for coordinating civil, environmental and cultural defense policies and activities.


State of the art in Italy

In Italy alone, there are around 30,000 flood risk cultural sites (“Italian cities facing the climate challenge”), 14,000 endangered by the intensification of hydrogeological events and 82% of those on the Mediterranean coast are at risk of flooding (Kiel University report). After years of catastrophes, especially after the latest episodes related to Venice and Matera that brought the fragility of our cities of art to international attention, the Ministry has finally decided to create an ad hoc body. It is also a first step towards that idea of ​​Civil Protection of Cultural Heritage long desired by the Minister, who only a few weeks ago reminded the UNESCO Director General, reiterating the need to act with internationally defined bodies, protocols and procedures.

The commitment of international organizations

As Franceschini pointed out, what is missing are concrete regulations and action plans, built on the basis of the great research work that international cultural heritage organizations (ICOMOS, ICCROM and Unesco) have been carrying out for years. Erminia Sciacchitano of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture comments: “if we want to achieve international goals, it is necessary not to waste time and look at the great work already done both internationally and in Europe. Just think that only in 2018 the Commission invested 18 million euros, through the Horizon2020 framework program, to test solutions that increase the resilience of historic settlements and favor their sustainable recovery in the event of disasters.


MATT and monitoring actions

For public and private institutions responsible for the management of cultural heritage, the most effective way to respond to the impact of climate change is to integrate the necessary measures into existing or currently being defined management plans. In this sense, a success story is represented by the National Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change “produced by the Ministry of the Environment and Territorial Protection (MATT), in which an entire section is dedicated to Cultural Heritage.
This document indicates the following general actions necessary to produce adequate intervention plans for the conservation of cultural heritage in the face of ongoing climate change:

  • dissemination of existing knowledge;
  • continuous monitoring;
  • ordinary maintenance;
  • evaluation of priorities in relation to the state of conservation of the artefacts;
  • assessment of the state of conservation of the artefacts in relation to the environmental conditions of conservation detected;
  • evaluation of priorities in response to climate change;
  • data collection to support decisions both at national and regional level;
  • understanding of the environmental, economic and social context of cultural heritage.

Summary

  • Cultural heritage is a precious and non-renewable resource that needs continuous monitoring actions to ensure its sustainable use and at the same time protect it from the consequences of climate change.
  • In Italy alone there are 30,000 flood risk cultural sites, 14,000 endangered by the intensification of hydrogeological events and 82% of those present on the Mediterranean coast are at risk of flooding.
  • The institutions are moving in the right direction and European projects are already in place to study the impact of climate change on cultural heritage.

STORM: a European heritage monitoring project within the Horizon2020 framework program

STORM is a project that was created to evaluate and design a series of measures to safeguard the artistic and cultural heritage, with the aim of maximizing its effectiveness in space and time.

All with an innovative approach, which wants to make the processes that underlie, above all, prevention more oriented and participatory with respect to users and citizens, giving them a wider awareness of what the protection of assets implies.

The aim is to improve the current state of the art on the one hand through preventive actions on the conservation of historic structures and, on the other, through the forecast and identification of emergency measures by creating a network of knowledge and tools shared between all European partners.

STORM tools and services aim to give a global and holistic vision of the entire value chain: an integrated reference framework that allows you to manage the cultural asset as the center of an ecosystem that improves its safeguarding with the support of ICT technologies.

STORM is tested in experimental sites exposed to different types of threats and with peculiar characteristics such as to make them single case studies. They are located in five different countries: Italy, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Greece and Turkey. The pilot sites, in turn partners of the project, are:

  • The monumental complex of the Baths of Diocletian in Rome, Italy.
  • Mellor Archaeological Trust in Greater Manchester, United Kingdom.
  • The Roman ruins of Tróia in the Setubal area, Portugal.
  • The ancient fortress of Rethymno in the homonymous city in Crete, Greece.
  • The Grand Theater of Ephesus in Anatolia, Turkey.

The project also benefits from the support of ICCROM, an intergovernmental organization founded by UNESCO and dedicated to the conservation of cultural heritage.

The STORM paradigm provides that the interaction of all the subjects that populate the surrounding area with the asset is crucial for the protection of the artistic and cultural heritage. In other words, all categories of stakeholders, be they administrators, employees in charge of the management and maintenance of the patrimony, responsible for prevention and rescue, user citizens must have a dedicated communication channel through which they can make their own contribution to the protection of the cultural and artistic patrimony.


Sources

http://eai.enea.it/
The future of our past, ICOMOS
https://www.ilsole24ore.com/art/il-patrimonio-culturale-sfida-cambiamento-climatico-ACQWXE4
https://www.eticaeconomia.it/storm-un-progetto-per-proteggere-il-patrimonio-culturale-dal-cambiamento-climatico/