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The impact of climate change on our cultural heritage, without urgent and substantial action, could lead to irreversible damage and undermine the ties between heritage sites and future generations.

For millennia, people have engaged with cultural landscapes, archaeological sites, historic townscapes, buildings and associated intangible values, allowing for past lessons to be preserved and provide future generations a sense of belonging. The protection of heritage sites, whether of local, national or universal value, is globally recognized through organizations such as UNESCO and its 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.

Heritage is an important asset for identity as well as social development and livelihood. In addition, World Heritage properties serve as climate change observatories to gather and share information on applied and tested monitoring, mitigation and adaptation practices. Historic towns that were densely built with a mix of commercial and residential uses and often pedestrian, also serve as models for developing mitigation/adaptation solutions.

In 2020, GEO launched a new Community Activity on Climate Change Impacts on World Heritage Cities, in cooperation with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This Community Activity will draw on the GEO community’s rich expertise to realize the untapped potential of Earth observations to monitor and enable specific mitigation and adaptation strategies to shield urban cultural heritage from climate change risks.

World Heritage Sites are increasingly at risk from impacts from climate change. Image shows the Quebrada de Humahuaca


Earth observation offers a means to continuously monitor and standardize practices around climate change risk to cultural heritage. Especially in World Heritage Cities, it can accelerate and improve the provision of documentary evidence of cultural heritage,  engaging multiple disciplines and building upon systems and frameworks already in place. Satellite imagery, combined with in situ data, is extremely useful for monitoring and managing sites, as well as for change detection analysis, and disaster monitoring and risk assessment (both pre and post), although gaps remain in heritage sites geographical coordinates collection and integration and usability of products for stakeholders. 

World Heritage Sites are increasingly at risk from impacts from climate change. Image shows the Acropolis.

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