12.12.2012 - UNESCO Venice Office/Energetika.NET

Even Cultural Sites can go Hand in Hand with Sustainable Energy!

© Wareameye - University of Dubrovnik

Interview released to Energetika.NET in mid-November: In partnership with the City and University of Dubrovnik as well as with UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) Croatia, the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, Venice (Italy), organised at the end of September and in the first week of October a School on Sustainable Energy Governance in UNESCO-designated sites.

The school combined 2 very different topics - natural and mainly cultural sites with sustainable energy. Davide Poletto, UNESCO programme officer, says that the idea to organise a school that will combine these two topics came up last year when the UNESCO Venice Office co-organised with UNDP Croatia an international conference on energy management at cultural sites.

The thing is that the dominant energy paradigm is producing a large number of serious externalities, among which is climate change, a phenomenon which we are already witnessing. On the other hand, UNESCO designated sites include cultural heritage sites particularly diffused throughout Europe and South East Europe. Finding innovative pathways in order to integrate conservation requirements with the global imperative of sustainable energy is becoming more and more impelling. Culturally protected sites may be large energy consumers, although solutions are at hand and in need of being mainstreamed and further applied, using UNESCO designated sites as an experimental ground with high learning potential.”

“Western economies are increasingly dependent on energy imports from politically unstable regions which are putting oil supply and production at risk. In addition, extreme climate change scenarios are no longer science fiction, but are possible - if not probable - in the future. The air is increasingly polluted with carbon dioxide emissions, 80% of which are produced while using fossil fuels,” Poletto stated on the first day of the School on Sustainable Energy Governance in UNESCO designated sites, which started on Saturday 29 September 2012, in Dubrovnik. Poletto added that, “we are already approaching the point of red alert in the level of greenhouse gas emissions because the planet has never seen such human-induced concentrations of CO2 in its atmosphere.” If this happens, we seriously risk stepping into the worst-case scenario of climate change - where adaptation and mitigation policies will have limited or no impact. In light of all this, “we need to invest in changing the way we behave and manage energy,” Poletto cautioned. “One of UNESCO’s primary roles is to promote a culture of sustainable development where energy, as recognised by the United Nations Secretary-General, has acquired an increased relevance. This is not just about the environment, it is also about social equity, to strive for eradication of energy poverty, as well as about providing those who live in such poverty with the ability to get access to modern energy standards”, Poletto stated in his introduction at the UNESCO school in Dubrovnik, which brought together 24 participants from South East Europe with different scientific backgrounds. Energetika.NET was also on the spot.

You say that cultural heritage can also contribute to solving today’s climate change problems.

Of course. Sustainable energy is an answer to a lot of questions and problems since energy is the bulk of mitigation strategies for climate change. Several scientists wrote about already-existing climate change impacts and those changes yet to come. Therefore, we all have to work for this, especially in the South Eastern European countries which have to come to grips with the converging trend of EU climate and energy policies as mandatory for becoming EU member states and cope with high-level energy intensity economies. Cultural heritage and different mind-sets driven from scientific-based evidence may serve well the demand for a more sustainable energy paradigm. UNESCO has a role to play in catalysing designated sites, local communities, and science to promote innovation, cognitive advancement and tangible changes for sustainable development.
Your goal, then, for such activities, such as the mentioned school, is to raise awareness first among the experts, like architects and engineers?
We have several reasons to enhance their capacities, and training them is one of the possible options. We expect these people to go back home with some new ideas and new points of view to become initiators of more sustainable energy practices. Of course, we have to work on raising awareness in all fields, but then we also have to work on raising awareness among policy- and decision-makers.

We’ve heard at the school about some real cases, but does UNESCO have some of its own cases that you’ve been involved in, such as real-time cases that needed some intervention in combination of the energy efficiency and the heritage issues?

Energy in UNESCO designated sites is quite an innovative issue; this is a kind of pioneering work. We have to be involved in climate change mitigation activities - an issue that the United Nations is following very intensively. Our purpose in Dubrovnik is to combine the protection of designated sites with higher energy efficiency and education in sustainable energy, which is linked to UNESCO’s broader efforts in Education for Sustainable Development. Educating and training people is strategic for enhancing energy use reduction and, therefore, the reduction of carbon emissions. It is well known that historic buildings are not energy-efficient buildings. However, I also have to stress that historic sites can be energy sustainable, as brought into evidence during our School here in Dubrovnik from the narrative of the NGO Changeworks from the World Heritage site ‘Old and New Towns of Edinburgh’ in UK. However, to gain this achievement, we have to consider the governance sphere of primary importance. We should learn that it is much better to have a management system inclusive of sustainable energy practices, rather than to work downstream when the rules of the game are already set. To get to a good governance system, we have to stick to a certain set of rules that are taking into account both the heritage sites’ core values and protection and the stances for sustainable energy management. The crucial point to understand here is: if sustainable energy worked in the World Heritage sites of Edinburgh and Dubrovnik, why can they not be spread to innumerable other sites in the entire region?

What is the greatest challenge here - to gather all these experts together, to raise the money needed for reconstructions, or what?

This is a complex sphere, so we have to deal with it with a great willingness. We should work on mainstreaming new principles and pulling down some conceptual barriers, which are the primary reason of resistance in uptaking innovations in management practices which are nowadays largely needed. We would like to keep our efforts high, but of course, this is also dependent on the resources available for the future. All in all, shifting energy paradigms is a formidable challenge which requires enormous efforts of both material and cognitive natures.

Would you say that energy efficiency and cultural heritage could somehow also combine a certain niche for business opportunities?

Energy efficiency and renewables are already much more than an economic niche for business, and will be more so in the future. Cultural heritage may give its contribution in terms of economic development and job creation even in relation to the energy issue. It should be a matter of time in South East Europe, but local administration, site managers and public servants in charge of those sites will be increasingly searching for energy consultants and innovative technological applications to help them reduce energy consumption on the sites and make them more sustainable.

Nevertheless, we must not forget to be persistent. UNESCO designated sites are special sites. Some of them are of outstanding universal value (World Heritage sites); others encompass multiple ecosystems, including human intervention and urban realities as laboratories for sustainable development (Biosphere Reserves). Those sites have special limitations as well as special potentials and they require measures to be adjusted to them. In the end, there is much to be done yet, since our work has just begun!

Energetika.NET news article (19.11.12): Davide Poletto, UNESCO: Even Cultural Sites can go Hand in Hand with Sustainable Energy!

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