Loss and damage to cultural heritage is ignored. This must change at COP27.

The loss and damage caused by climate change to intangible cultural heritage such as indigenous and local knowledge and traditional agricultural practices have been largely underestimated in discussions on the implementation of the Paris Agreement. This must change.

A new report from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)published ahead of COP27 and co-authored with UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and ICOMOS (the International Council on Monuments and Sites) underlined for the first time in the history of the scientific panel, the vital importance of the protection of cultural heritage in the fight against climate change.

Impacts on cultural heritage underestimated

The lack of attention given to cultural heritage has resulted in a global imbalance in the comprehensive understanding of the impacts of climate change. This, in turn, has led to an incomplete understanding of non-economic loss and damage. Additionally, climate responses, both practical and political, are seen and implemented through a cultural lens. The way people perceive, understand and respond to climate impacts is intricately modulated by culture and heritage. Understanding what people value and prioritize in their own cultural contexts can be a powerful factor in designing and implementing effective strategies to limit harmful heat-trapping emissions and help communities adapt to inevitable impacts. .

The IPCC has found that the lack of a comprehensive and balanced understanding of cultural heritage in climate risk assessments has been exacerbated by an over-representation of built heritage and well-known sites in climate and heritage policy discussions. Wealth consists not only of tangible assets such as buildings, monuments, archaeological sites, works of art and museums, but also intangible heritage. This heritage, transmitted and developed from generation to generation over decades or even millennia, can include practices, food traditions, languages, skills, ceremonies, artistic expressions, cosmologies, identities and fashions. of knowledge. This intangible heritage often resides in communities that have been historically marginalized, discriminated against or actively persecuted – those who are also often the most vulnerable to climate change.

Traditional resilience practices of the past can build resilience today

Much of this threatened and vulnerable intangible heritage provides opportunities to learn from climate adaptation in the past and build resilience in the future. For example, the pastoral systems used by nomadic peoples in Africa, who follow or drive their livestock to suitable open pastures, developed as effective responses to the natural aridification of much of the continent thousands of years ago. ‘years. Ancient water access and management practices also have much to contribute today. Complex irrigation systems such as the acequia from Spain and New Mexico, the aflaj from Oman and those from Peru Nor Yauyos Cochos Reserve and Honghe Hani Rice Terraces in the Chinese province of Yunnan have enabled the agriculture of arid lands and mountains for centuries, even millennia. In Nepal, the underground running water system and public fountains (hiti) dating from the 6th century provide access to water to a large part of the population of the entire Kathmandu valley.

The IPCC report emphasizes the importance of recognizing the different ways of knowing and the various knowledge systems at play in understanding, measuring, monitoring and recording. Seasonal phenomena, for example, are important in triggering or celebrating agricultural, fishing or hunting activities in the annual calendars of many indigenous peoples, often accompanied by ceremonies. In Oregon, the Siletz people take advantage of the emergence of eel ants (flying termites) and other environmental cues to trigger their harvest of Pacific lampreys and simultaneously the traditional eel dance. In addition to climate change, there are changes in the seasons, phenology (seasonal biological changes directly linked to climatic conditions), the disconnection of ecological phenomena linked to history and alterations in the distribution of species. For the Native Alaskan Iñupiat, bowhead whale hunting and the spring whaling festival have been an integral part of community identity for thousands of years, but climate change in the marine environment Arctic threaten this.

Eel Dance of the Yakama Nation. McKayla Lee / Highlighted News

Indigenous knowledge should be highly valued

Often, indigenous and local communities are the first to notice changes in ecological phenomena, as their detailed traditional knowledge of the interactions between local species and weather has been built up over many generations of observation and cultural interaction. . The three main types of knowledge – scientific, indigenous and local – should not be merged into a single hybrid system, but should be used alongside each other in a braided knowledge system take full advantage of different systems and perspectives.

Indigenous knowledge has too often been absorbed and integrated into science-based impact and adaptation strategies, without the full participation of the knowledge holders themselves. The same is true at decision-making and political levels, where indigenous and local communities have not had the platform to speak for themselves, rather than being mediated by the voices of others. They have most often lacked access to decision-making and climate action planning, and adaptation plans are the poorest of these – lacking key knowledge, ideas and toolkits. practical tools. Traditional knowledge has also been hand-picked or appropriate and the IPCC states that:

“When pursuing research/collaborative work across knowledge systems, it is essential to be clear about data sharing and benefit sharing agreements so that IPRs (Intellectual Property Rights) are maintained, that consent is transparent and that groups (e.g. Indigenous Peoples and local communities) are in no way disadvantaged by giving or causing to use, abuse or misuse their knowledge”.

There are a growing number of examples of successful climate resilience projects where solutions have been co-created and are being jointly implemented by management bodies and indigenous and local communities. In the World Heritage site of Kakadu National Park in Australia’s Northern Territory, Aboriginal co-researchers and indigenous rangers work with the national science agency CSIRO, the park management board and other partners for improve decision-making for the management of important species on indigenous lands in a changing climate.

In California, efforts are underway with scientists and traditional knowledge holders to understand how indigenous heritage has developed over centuries in the management of oak forests, including sacred groves, as traditional practices of collection and processing of fire and acorns can underpin adaptive fire management strategies and drought resilience. in a rapidly changing climate.

L&D discussions should include intangible heritage

At COP27 and beyond, it is crucial that greater attention be paid to loss and damage (L&D) of intangible cultural heritage. Until now, because it is difficult or efficient to assign an economic value to them, cultural loss and damage has been largely ignored in development and development policy discussions, which have overwhelmingly centered on calls for a direct climate finance provided by wealthier countries such as the United States and Europe which has historically been responsible for most carbon emissions. Climate finance to help low-income countries in the Global South respond to deteriorating climatic conditions is essential. A analysis by the Heinrich Böll Foundation advocated that by 2030, the wealthiest nations should have developed mechanisms to contribute $150 billion to compensate for loss and damage in the Global South. Even this is a drop in the bucket. By 2050, the Böll Foundation analysis estimates that losses and damages due to climate change will reach at least 1,000 to 1,800 billion dollars, and this without placing any value on the massive worldwide degradation of the cultural heritage of all types.

At the very least, we need to create a new climate science research agenda for cultural heritage that centers indigenous and local knowledge and resilience strategies based on traditional practices. We also need to urgently engage in discussions about the potential benefits of valuing intangible heritage to be able to better represent the true costs of loss and damage.

The new IPCC/UNESCO/ICOMOS report has highlighted the potential harm caused, particularly to indigenous peoples and historically marginalized communities, by underestimating climate impacts on cultural heritage and undervaluing non-scientific knowledge systems . It also demonstrates the resilience benefits that could be achieved by restoring balance. COP27 offers a turning point in which rich nations commit to providing adequate funding for L&D, but also in which all countries move towards equal weight and attention to non-economic L&D, including cultural heritage intangible.

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