A field observatory of UNESCO sites

Galapagos (Ecuador), a UNESCO World Heritage site and Biosphere Reserve threatened by climate change.

Climate change is increasingly recognized as the driver of biodiversity change with the most rapid increase in impacts and related cascading effects on human livelihoods. On the other hand, loss and degradation of biodiversity is an important driver of climate change. Through the ecosystem services it supports, biodiversity also makes an important contribution to both climate change mitigation and adaptation, providing the basis for efforts to reduce the negative effects of climate change.

Besides its impacts on biodiversity and natural heritage, climate change also variously impacts the world’s cultural heritage. Archaeological remains and historical buildings can be affected when the hydrological, chemical and biological processes of the soil change in response to climate change. The predicted increase in flooding may damage building materials, desertification, salt weathering and erosion are already threatening cultural heritage in desert areas. Climate change may cause other social and cultural impacts, with communities changing the way they live, work, worship and socialise in buildings, sites and landscapes, possibly migrating and abandoning their built heritage and loosing their intangible cultural heritage.

Many small island, rural and indigenous communities are already facing the impacts of climate change. Their high vulnerability relates to their reliance upon resource-based livelihoods and the locations and configurations of their lands and territories. The wealth of their knowledge and experiences to observe, cope with and adapt to change is increasingly being recognized as an important building block in the development of both climate change observation and adaptation strategies.

Development of a Global Climate Change Field Observatory of UNESCO Sites

© UNESCO - Alexis N. Vorontzoff/The city of Venice, a World Heritage site, is threatened by sea level rise.

The objective of this Observatory is to use UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Biosphere Reserves as priority reference sites for understanding the impacts of climate change on human societies and cultural diversity, biodiversity and ecosystems services, the world’s natural and cultural heritage, and the possible adaptation and mitigation strategies.

The main objectives of the Field Observatory are the following:

  • Promote the recognition and use of Biosphere Reserves (BR) and World Heritage (WH) sites as priority sites for implementing the UNESCO Climate Change Initiative and other UN-level climate change initiatives.
  • Collect, document and analyze scientific and traditional and local knowledge of both women and men on impacts of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem services and human/community responses to adapt to these impacts.
  • Promote skills and competencies in cultural industries linked to films, computer animation and products, photographic and art festivals and events as well as other public/media events to tell climate change adaptation and mitigation linked stories drawn from science, religion, traditional knowledge, etc.

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