European Heritage Hub Forum underscores how cultural heritage can make a difference for a more effective climate policy

Why must culture and heritage be at the heart of climate action? Because without them, it will fail.”  This was the main message conveyed by the 32 speakers and performers who intervened in a half-day Forum entitled ‘Reimagining the Anthropocene’, organised on 28 September in the frame of the European Heritage Hub and as part of the European Cultural Heritage Summit 2023. Discussions will feed into a global call to action to put culture and heritage at the heart of climate action, presented during the event and to be launched ahead of COP28.

The Forum took place just weeks after the UN’s Global Stocktake Report confirmed that contemporary climate policy is failing to keep the promise of 1.5° alive and to deliver fit-for-purpose adaptation. These same policies often overlook the historic and cultural origins of climate change and the socio-cultural enabling conditions of transformative climate action. Over four panels, speakers explored the relationship between these two issues at The Human Safety Net in Venice, gathering over 220 participants in person and 1,500 online. 

Sneska Quaedvlieg-Mihailović, Secretary-General of Europa Nostra and Project Leader of the Hub, opened the forum with a strong call for European leadership in the work to put culture and heritage at the heart of climate action – including in European Green Deal implementation – but also stressed the need for a truly global mobilisation, co-created by diverse voices: “We have been ringing the alarm bell that heritage is in danger because of climate change, but we must be sure to recall heritage is also part of the solution.”

Up until now culture and cultural heritage have not been sufficiently integrated into climate policy. Speaking on behalf of the European Commission, Catherine Magnant, Head of Unity of Cultural Policy of the Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture, recognised that “heritage is not always at the heart of decision-makers’ action and thinking; that is why the role of the European Heritage Hub is so important”. Representing the City of Venice, Environment Councillor Massimiliano De Martin, outlined measures taken to mitigate the impact of climate change in Venice, yet also underlined the need for funds to be able to carry out such actions. The Forum also counted with video contributions from  Tunç Soyer, Mayor of Izmir Metropolitan Municipality and Marie Pierre Bresson, Deputy Mayor in Charge of Culture, City of Lille.

Members of the European Union Youth Orchestra stirred the audience by using music to tell the story of the consequences of not acting now on climate change and biodiversity loss. The session, under the baton of Marshall Marcus, included selections from ‘The [uncertain] Four Seasons’, an algorithmic re-composition of Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’ developed by composers, musicians, climate and computer scientists using geospatial climate predictions for 2050. 

Four panels focused on cultural heritage, with many solutions to climate change

In the first of four Forum conversations, moderator Cristina Garzillo-Leemhuis, ICLEI European Secretariat, invited thinkers from diverse backgrounds including civil society, climate science, philanthropy, banking, and local and national governments, to each share their best answer to the question: ‘Why Culture and Heritage Must be at the Heart of Climate Action’. Participants highlighted the need for more cross-sector collaboration and greater involvement of local governments. Above all, the panel underscored how heritage brings the human dimension into the equation: “The climate transition cannot be done in isolation, it must be done while preserving our history and identity”, stated Laura Piovesan, Deputy Head of Projects Directorate at the European Investment Bank. 

European Heritage Hub Forum 2023
Conversation I: Why Culture and Heritage Must be at the Heart of Climate Change © Josef Rabara 

Conversation two explored the role of cultural heritage in shifting from a culture of exploitation to a culture of reuse. Moderator Alison Tickell of Julie’s Bicycle emphasised the intersection of culture and climate justice. In well-received opening remarks, Višnja Kisić of Europa Nostra Serbia asked: “How do we refuse our old ways? How do we undermine imperial projects of today? How do we fall in love with earth again? How do we serve regenerative life forces? (…) We need heritage not as an institution in a city centre, but as practices to enact”. 

A roundtable conversation followed on the shifts in attitudes, priorities, and skills needed in the cultural heritage sector itself in order to fulfil its role in the triple transformation of our society: green, digital and social. The multi-generational roundtable was moderated by Jermina Stanojev, KU Leuven Institute for Cultural Heritage and included the perspective of the new generation thanks to contributions from the European Heritage Youth Ambassadors. Participants illustrated how closely interlinked green, digital and social issues are. For a successful transformation, these three strands must be comprehensively considered. 

European Heritage Hub Forum 2023
Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of UN, sends message to the Hub Forum © Felix Q Media

A global call to action to place culture and heritage at the heart of climate action

In the final session, speakers from politics, policy, and government shared their perspectives on concrete pathways for valorising culture and heritage in climate and environmental policy and funding frameworks at city, EU, and international levels. The tone for the session was set in a letter of support to the European Heritage Hub from the Secretary General of United Nations, Antonio Guterres, which declared: “The need to harness culture and heritage in the fight for our planet has never been more urgent”. 

The session aimed to connect directly to the policy discussions at EU level and at the 2023 UN Climate Conference (COP28) being held in November in Dubai, UAE, as well as to COP29 expected to be held in Europe in 2024.  Forum discussions will inform the Call to Put Culture at the Heart of Climate Action, a global campaign that will be launched in November by diverse partners asking national governments that are parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to adopt a “Joint Work” decision (JWD) on culture and climate action at the COP.

European Heritage Hub Forum 2023
Audience at the European Heritage Hub Forum © Felix Q Media

With less than 2 months to go until COP28, His Excellency Mubarak Al Nakhi, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Culture and Youth of the UAE, addressed the audience with a strong message: “Culture has the intrinsic ability to humanise the language of climate action and inspire change”. 

Hermann Parzinger, Europa Nostra Executive President, and Forum keynote speaker HRH Princess Dana Firas of the Petra National Trust, focused on the need for action, making passionate calls for all Forum participants to support the Call to Action. “We are facing a climate crisis, but it’s also a crisis of action. We need new policies to keep 1.5°C alive”, stated HRH. 

The Global Call to Action is open for feedback. To be part of the process, join the new European Heritage Hub Community of Practice for European cultural heritage operators and advocates.

About the European Heritage Hub 

The Forum was the first public program of the new European Heritage Hub project, and benefitted from the support of the ALIPH Foundation and from coordination with the Climate Heritage Network. Launched in May 2023 by Europa Nostra with a consortium of 21 partners across Europe and co-funded by the European Union, the Hub aims to build the stronger unity and resilience of Europe’s heritage sector and boost its capacity for action and advocacy in the face of society’s triple transformation – green, digital and social. Other Hub partners intervening in the Forum were Elliniki Etairia, EuroCities, the Europeana Foundation, and KU Leuven

More information on the speakers of the Hub Forum can be found in the information booklet

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