EU Task Force for Climate Neutral and Resilience Historic Urban Districts kicked off

Historic urban districts play an important role in making European cities climate neutral and more resilient. The sociocultural factors associated with historic urban areas can significantly drive and support climate action. To address specific solutions for climate adaptation and mitigation to be employed in historic urban districts, there is a specific EU Horizon 2020 topic: “Resilience and sustainable reconstruction of historic areas to cope with climate change and hazard events”, under which the 3 twin projects ARCH, HYPERION and SHELTER are funded.

Historic urban districts can help make European cities more climate neutral and resilient. However, a significant amount of collective and coordinated effort will be required in achieving climate neutrality and strengthening historic and contemporary urban districts resilience to the effects of climate change and natural hazards, as well as the resilience of the communities that rely on them.

The SHELTER consortium, which the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe is a partner, established - together with the Horizon 2020 sister projects ARCH and HYPERION - an EU Task Force for Climate Neutral and Resilience Historic Urban Districts in response to the EU call for a ‘Heritage Alive’ orientation to “[increase] resilience and sustainable reconstruction of historic areas to cope with climate change and hazard events”.

The technical core of the EU Task Force consists of partners from European research projects in the fields of heritage management, climate change, mitigation/adaptation, disaster risk management/resilience as well as urban planning and regeneration.

The kick off session was held online on 23 June with a panel of European Commission representatives to discuss issues, gaps, opportunities, and good practices for climate neutrality and resilience in historic urban districts. Based on international, European and national programmes, the Italian Ministry of Culture, UNESCO World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS examined concerns and potential opportunities for achieving climate neutrality and strengthening the resilience in and alongside historic urban districts.

The Deputy Director of UNESCO World Heritage Centre, Jyoti Hosagrahar, introduced in a video message the Call for Action Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the 2011 UNESCO Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape.

Representatives from the EU tasks force of the 3 H2020 projects presented solutions for climate adaptation and mitigation that can be used in historic urban districts, as well as how the socio-cultural factors associated with historic urban districts can drive and support climate action, based on case studies.

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing our planet today. Cities have to adapt to urbanization, climate change and other social, security trends. Sites of significant cultural and historical value play an important role in fostering location-based identity and social cohesion.” said Aitziber Egusquiza Ortega, the coordinator of the EU Horizon 2020 SHELTER project. She continued that: “this Task Force comes from the idea to turn those challenges into opportunities. It aims not only to coordinate EU efforts to make historic urban districts and their communities climate neutral and resilient but also to address issues of contemporary urban districts and find synergies”.

The Task Force’s mission is to bring together actors from practice, research, and policy to promote the development and adoption of advanced solutions for resilient planning for historic urban areas, allowing them to adapt to climate change and making them climate neutral in the process. In doing so, the aim is to provide support to European authorities and decision makers for developing common evidence-based policies, strategies, and procedures. To achieve this goal, the Task Force focuses on 3 thematic areas: Developing resilience strategies for historic urban districts; developing harmonized approaches for assessing and monitoring risk and resilience; and, developing equitable solutions for and with communities.

The coordinator of the International Council on Monuments and Sites’ Climate Change and Heritage Working Group, Andrew Potts, drew attention to the problem even further. He stated that these concerns are extremely topical due to the lack of attention paid to the cultural dimension of climate change and action, as well as the failure to pursue a culture-based strategy. Finally, he expressed his optimism that this Task Force endeavour will contribute to closing that gap.