Hub Partners Bring the Voice of Cultural Heritage to Buildings and Climate Change Global Forum in Paris

The Buildings and Climate Global Forum, held from  7 – 8 March 2024 in Paris, provided a global stage in the heart of Europe for the European Heritage Hub to showcase the role heritage plays in the decarbonisation of the built environment and its adaptation to climate risks. The first of its kind, the Forum was co-organised by France and the United Nations Environment Programme with the support of the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC). 

Buildings are responsible for about 40% of the EU’s total energy consumption, and for 36% of its GHG emissions from energy. Yet, globally, the contribution of buildings to climate change has not received as much attention as some other sectors. Not surprisingly, the sector is not on track to achieve decarbonization by 2050. Climate science has confirmed that rates of retrofit must increase significantly to meet climate targets.

Building sector climate initiatives too often are dominated by a focus on new construction and technologies, even though half the buildings expected to be standing in 2050 have already been built – a figure even higher in many European countries. Where existing climate policy does look at existing buildings, the focus is typically on operational efficiency.  More often ignored are the GHG emissions associated with demolition and new construction (so-called ‘embodied carbon’) – emissions that are largely avoided when underutilised existing and historic buildings are reused.  

Reusing and rehabilitating historic buildings sustains Europe’s job-intensive craft and Baukultur traditions, and is the ultimate circular economy strategy – especially when combined with the sensitive renovation of these buildings for operational efficiency. Moreover, cultural heritage brings a focus not only on structures but on places and the mindsets and behaviours behind the ways people build and use buildings in order to understand their durability and capacity to adapt. 

Viewing retrofitting campaigns through this lens calls attention to the co-benefits that well designed investments in energy efficiency can secure, like social cohesion, wellbeing, creativity, education, and intercultural dialogue. 

European Heritage Hub partners – ICLEI Europe and Europa Nostra – collaborated  with Architecture2030 and the Climate Heritage Network to bring these ideas forward at the Paris Forum, co-sponsoring a session entitled ‘Unlocking potential of the heritage and existing built environment to accelerate sectoral climate mitigation, adaptation, and capacity building’.

Buildings and Climate Global Forum, Paris

Session speakers included Europa Nostra’s Heritage and Climate Action Advisor, Andrew Potts, and Andreas Jäger, Officer Sustainable Resources, Climate and Resilience of ICLEI Europe. They were joined by numerous other experts including session leader Lori Ferriss; Costanza Miliani, Director of Italy’s Istituto di Scienze del Patrimonio Culturale; and Graciela Melitsko Thornton, Creative Green Program Lead of Julie’s Bicycle. 

At the conclusion of the Forum, representatives of the governments of 70 countries adopted  the Declaration de Chaillot which aims to enable international cooperation towards a rapid, fair, and effective transition of the building and construction sector. Cultural heritage advocates contributed to efforts that secured inclusion in the Declaration of language:

  • Prioritising the reuse, re-purposing and renovation of existing buildings and infrastructures 
  • Establishing as an objective to plan, design, build, operate and manage culturally and socially climate adapted buildings through a whole life cycle approach
  • Prioritising on-site assets, recycled and end-of-life use, local, sustainable building materials
  • Calling for enhancing local sourcing of traditional appropriate low-tech solutions.

This works builds on the Global Call to Put Cultural Heritage, Arts and Creative Sectors at the Heart of Climate Action. The European Heritage Hub is a founding signatory of the Global Call and the Call, which was launched at the European Heritage Hub Forum as part of the 2023 European Cultural Heritage Summit 2023 held in Venice, Italy.

Efforts to take this work forward will continue in May in Bonn, Germany at a dialogue on climate mitigation and ‘Cities: buildings and urban systems’, hosted by the UN’s climate agency, the UNFCCC.  These topics will also be featured at the UN’s annual climate conference, COP29, which is being held in Baku, Azerbaijan, marking its return to Europe for the first time in five years.

At European level, attention now turns to the long-awaited revised Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) which was formally adopted by the Council of the EU on 12 April 2024. EU Member states will have two years in which to incorporate the provisions of the directive into their national legislation. The European Heritage Hub Policy Monitor will be focusing on how member states apply the revised EPDB to heritage and whether or not they take advantage of the option to exempt certain heritage buildings from the directive. 

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