Website experience degraded
We are currently facing a technical issue with the website which affects the display of data. The full functionality will be restored as soon as possible. We appreciate your understanding. If you have any questions or issues, please contact EEA Helpdesk (helpdesk@eea.europa.eu).

Cultural heritage

Villa Foscari - La Malcontenta

Villa Foscari - La Malcontenta, Mira, Italy
Image credits: Valentina Giannini

Key messages

  • The impacts of catastrophic events on cultural heritage such as flooding, droughts and storms, are coupled with the slow onset of changes arising from deterioration processes.

  • Cultural heritage was not explicitly mentioned in the Green Deal, but in accordance with the Work Plan for Culture 2019-2022, an Open Method of Coordination group of Member States’ experts on strengthening cultural heritage resilience for climate change was established.

  • Europe’s cultural heritage is supported by a range of EU policies, programmes and funding, notably the Creative Europe programme. EU policies in other areas that take increasing account of heritage span from research, innovation, education, environment, climate change and regional policies to digital policies.

 

Impacts and vulnerabilities

Europe’s cultural heritage is a rich and diverse mosaic of cultural and creative expressions, an inheritance from previous generations of Europeans and a legacy for those to come. The UNESCO definition of cultural heritage includes artefacts, monuments, a group of buildings and sites, museums that have a diversity of values including symbolic, historic, artistic, aesthetic, ethnological or anthropological, scientific and social significance. It includes tangible heritage (movable, immobile and underwater), intangible cultural heritage (ICH) embedded into cultural, and natural heritage artefacts, sites or monuments.

The impacts of catastrophic events on this heritage such as extreme precipitation events, flooding, landslides, and droughts have impacts on cultural heritage sites including historical parks and gardens. They are coupled with the slow onset of changes arising from deterioration processes. Continuous increase in temperature and fluctuations in temperature and humidity or fluctuations in freeze–thaw cycles – causes degradation and stress in materials, leading to a greater need for restoration and conservation. Biological degradation caused by microorganisms, for example in the form of mould and algal growth, and insect infestations attacking the physical fabric of buildings and the collections of galleries, libraries, archives and museums are more likely to occur.

Cultural heritage is also vulnerable to maladaptation, when inadvertent loss or damage is caused by adaptation measures. There is little in-depth knowledge about the impacts of the climate crisis on practices, expressions, knowledge and skills that communities, groups and sometimes individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. Rapidly increasing, simultaneous or concurrent extreme events are an area of focus in climate science. However, the consequences of concurrent catastrophic events for the whole cultural heritage sector have not yet been adequately dealt with or investigated – this is now a major source of concern.

 

Policy framework

The EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change recognizes the need to protect and preserve cultural heritage in the face of climate change impacts, such as floods, storms, and sea-level rise.

However cultural heritage was not explicitly mentioned in the Green Deal. Simultaneously, in accordance with the Work Plan for Culture 2019-2022, an Open Method of Coordination group of Member States’ experts on strengthening cultural heritage resilience for climate change was established. The group’s mandate was to explore the contributions of cultural heritage to the European Green Deal and identify threats and gaps related to cultural heritage in the context of climate change.

This group examined the state of play, gaps in knowledge and structural deficiencies at EU and Member State levels. The information gathered results in the concerning fact that cultural heritage is under attack from climate change at an unprecedented speed and scale. Yet EU Member States do not have proper policies and action plans in place to mitigate these attacks, nor does the EU. A total of 83 best practice examples collected from 26 countries demonstrate the potential of cultural heritage solutions in the context of climate change; they provide an invaluable source of inspiration and ideas to emulate.

In September 2007 the EU Floods Directive on the assessment and management of flood risks was adopted by the European Council. The aim of the Directive is to reduce and manage the risks that floods pose to human health, the environment, cultural heritage and economic activity. Member States have to report every 6 years how many cultural heritage sites might be affected by flooding.

 

Improving the knowledge base

There are several EU projects that are working to improve the knowledge base on adaptation for cultural heritage. Here are a few examples:

  1. The CLIMATE FOR CULTURE project is a research project that aims to develop new tools and methods for assessing the impact of climate change on cultural heritage. The project includes case studies in different regions of Europe, and it is focused on improving the understanding of the vulnerability of cultural heritage to climate change impacts and developing adaptation strategies.
  2. The ROCK project, which stands for "Regeneration and Optimization of Cultural heritage in creative and Knowledge cities," is a research project that aims to develop and test new models of sustainable urban development that prioritize cultural heritage. The project includes case studies in cities across Europe, and it is focused on improving the resilience of cultural heritage to climate change impacts such as flooding and extreme weather events.
  3. The HERACLES project, which stands for "HEritage Resilience Against CLimate Events on Site," is a research project that aims to develop and test new technologies and methods for protecting cultural heritage from climate change impacts such as flooding, extreme weather events, and rising sea levels. The project includes case studies in different regions of Europe, and it is focused on improving the resilience of cultural heritage to climate change impacts.
  4. The EU-funded YADES project aims to train a network of fellows on how to preserve and boost resilience of cultural heritage areas and historic cities against climate change and associated hazards. The fellows will be trained to develop and introduce a detailed map with visualisations to monitor the whole system of hazards from atmospheric and other damage functions to historic buildings and areas. The data from the monitoring platform will be analysed by a simulation system and provided to local authorities, enabling necessary preventive actions.

 

Supporting investment and funding

Europe’s cultural heritage is supported by a range of EU policies, programmes and funding, notably the Creative Europe programme. EU policies in other areas that take increasing account of heritage span from research, innovation, education, environment, climate change and regional policies to digital policies. Consequently, funding for cultural heritage is available under Horizon Europe, Erasmus+, Europe for Citizens and European Structural and Investment Funds. The CulturEU funding guide is available as an interactive online webtool and as a printable guidebook. It covers opportunities linked to around 20 EU funding programmes that can support projects with a cultural and creative dimension.

A comprehensive overview can be found on the EU funding of adaptation measures page.

 

Supporting the implementation of adaptation

Tools such as heritage value assessments – for example UNESCO’s World Heritage List and ICOMOS – can be used to support climate adaptation and make people aware of the potential loss of such prestigious assets. It is also important to establish and maintain connections between heritage managers and researchers in climate change science and communications fields by sharing good practice examples. The development of citizen science should be invested in to enable the public to assist in the widespread monitoring and recording of impacts on heritage sites.

 

MRE of adaptation

According to the 6th Water Framework Directive and Floods Directive Implementation Report attention to environment and cultural heritage appears to have risen since the first cycle since the percentage of areas of potential significant flood risk where environment and cultural heritage were not found to be relevant dropped by around 10 percentage points. The EU summary can be found here.

Highlighted indicators

Resources

Relevant tile

Highlighted case studies