The Role of Cultural and Natural Heritage for Climate Action: A White Paper commissioned for the International Co-Sponsored Meeting on Culture, Heritage and Climate Change

Nick Shepherd, Joshua Benjamin Cohen, William Carmen, Moses Chundu, Christian Ernsten, Oscar Guevara, Franziska Haas, Shumon T Hussain, Felix Riede, A. R. Siders, Chandni Singh, Pindai Sithole, Alexandra Troi | 2022 

Executive Summary

Arguing that ‘the moment of the now’ calls for fresh, creative thinking in the search for solutions, this White Paper both explores the state of research at the intersection between culture, heritage and climate change, and makes a case for a set of approaches, perspectives and conversations that we need to have—or that we need to have in new ways. Taking a broad view of heritage as ‘the archive of accumulated human wisdom’, it explores both small-s solutions (immediate, techno-infrastructural fixes) and big-S Solutions (changes in values, behaviours and worldviews). First, it defines a ‘heritage perspective’ on climate change via four attributes: an orientation towards deep time; an orientation towards the future; an orientation towards local and Indigenous knowledge; and an orientation towards both practice and critical thinking. Then it presents a review of the relevant scientific and scholarly literatures, according to the scoping questions. Next, it presents eight heritage-focused case studies, each of which orients us towards solutions to the challenges of anthropogenic climate change. We need to consider an encompassing view of heritage, that draws from both the fields of heritage studies and heritage management. The archive of local and Indigenous knowledge and practice offers many potential solutions, but raises key questions around ethics, intellectual property and terms of engagement. Climate change itself needs to be understood as an historically situated phenomenon, that has involved and implicated populations and territories differently, especially across the Global North/ Global South divide. Recognizing this, it becomes imperative to foreground a climate justice perspective in the search for solutions. Experience suggests that science-based solutions are likely to be socially, economically, politically and culturally entangled. Social science and humanities-based approaches play a key role in allowing us to anticipate and understand such entanglements. Rather than being static and backward-looking, heritage is mobile, forward-looking and always in-the-making. Mobilising the affective power of heritage becomes a potentially powerful tool in organising for climate action—although this involves emphasising a different version of heritage, less concerned with national pasts and more with collective human endeavour. The creative arts play a key role in imagining viable futures, and in producing resonance, ‘believe-ability’ and hope. The political struggle around the climate emergency is the struggle for multilateralism, dialogue and cooperation, in the face of populist attempts to use a moment of historical anxiety for narrowly sectarian ends. From a heritage perspective, the question of relevance is: How do we mobilise the affective power of heritage in support of open, creative, and inclusive futures?