REPORT: Martin Robertson on ‘Preserving the Cultural Heritage, Supporting the Green Transition’ G20 Culture and Climate Change webinar
Climate Heritage Network Webinar 12 April 2021
‘Preserving the Cultural Heritage, Supporting the Green Transition’
Part of the G20 meeting in Italy.
by Martin Robertson, Chair of the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland
On behalf of the AHSS I attended this webinar to see how far it would concentrate on the built heritage and the possible mitigations which might enable historic buildings to adjust successfully to the future levels of energy efficiency that governments might demand of them. I quickly discovered that the programme was aimed not at the already converted but was an attempt to convince the G20 countries that heritage could be made a part of the solution. The Italian Government, the current President of the G20 countries, had decided that culture was to be the main theme of their Presidency, and this webinar was a small part of their exploration of this.
It was quickly evident that Italy’s main concern will be seismic events, extreme weather, rising sea levels, flooding and tourism overload, so much of the webinar was looking at reacting to these events rather than making sites and buildings more sustainable in themselves. They saw regular monitoring through IT, satellites and drones as the way to prevent the worst effects of these events before they happen.
Tourism is the fastest growing source of global carbon emissions, already at an estimated 8% of the total. One third of all tourism is to the Mediterranean countries, so the Italians have put themselves forward as natural leaders for a new approach to this. The Italians clearly think that the cultural heritage = what tourists want to come and see i.e. it is cultural heritage because tourists want to come and see it rather than for the sense of place and educational and emotional value that we might like to think that we place upon it in Britain and Scotland. This attitude does often appear here as well since it provides an easy way of giving a calculable value to sites, but does, of course, tend to exaggerate the honey pot nature of tourism as more and more people visit the must-see sites while neglecting the other sites which give a completely necessary setting without which the honey pots become little more than theme parks.
Key messages which did come out of the webinar –
- Successful mitigation of the effects of climate change will require a complete change in the lifestyles of the developed world.
- Close monitoring of sites using IT, satellites and drones will give warnings and help with future planning.
- Heritage must become more climate literate and much better at climate risk assessments.
- Indigenous knowledge can contribute enormously to cultural management strategies.
- A level of loss must be accepted i.e. We can expect that each site can only be preserved for so long. We are not going to be able to save everything so how far do you go to protect any one thing.
- It is almost always possible to retrofit historic buildings to an acceptable standard of energy efficiency without lasting damage to their character.
- Culture and heritage can be key drivers towards net zero and will be a key piece in the puzzle as we “build the better normal together”.
All in all, it was a programme of bite-sized chunks intended to persuade the G20 that this approach was both possible and vitally important. All very well-intentioned, but will they sign up to it?