World heritage sites threatened by climate change

Elianna Lev

Historic world monuments are at risk of disappearing as a result of climate change, according to a team of experts.

The Heritage Management Organization, which is made up of academics from around the world, warns that urgent action needs to be taken by international bodies like the European Union all the way down to managers of monuments like the Colosseum in Rome, Akko in Israel and the Westminster Abbey in London.

The organization’s director, Dr. Evangelos Kyriakidis, says there are three actions that could be executed, which would drastically slow down the damage from climate change for many of the sites.

One is combining risk maps – a data visualization tool that communicates specific risks – together with maps for cultural heritage monuments. Greece, for example, has a risk map for forest fires, which has never been coupled with the risk map of flooding, or the map for heritage sites.

“You’ll see that there is a big cluster of heritage sites in an area where there’s a lot of forest fires, and high slopes that would lead to a lot of flooding, so you could easily do something about it,” he tells Yahoo Canada.  

Kyriakidis insists this wouldn’t take too much effort to coordinate between different countries and regions, especially since several space agencies, like NASA, can provide this information. 

A second action plan would be to study the exact effects that climate change has on heritage sites. 

Kyriakidis says that while it’s hard to predict exactly how and when these monuments will disappear, experts can look at them on a macro scale – how they’ve been affected in the past century – and extrapolate how they might continue to degrade. 

“We can see the acceleration of damages but there’s no accurate data that says what’s going to happen,” he says. 

The third point in the Heritage Management Organization plan is better education. Kyriakidis says that while it’s important to inform the general population that heritage is being damaged by climate change, it’s essential that the people who are responsible for the sites be educated too.

“Managers need to be trained on how to pick up the climatic scenario for the region and how to create a projection for the current risk assessment for their monument, to see how the risks are changing,” he says.   

This would involve teaching site managers how to do a risk assessment in order to be able to make policy changes and then adapt them to the region.

“All of the heritage of the world is in danger because the deterioration is accelerating,” says Kyriakidis. “And heritage is not a renewable resource.”