ICCROM and IUCN create the World Heritage Project
The creation of the World Heritage Project during the World Conservation Congress in September 2016 signals a formal commitment to expanded programming and conservation linking cultural heritage sites to climate change mitigation and resilience work.
|Signing of the ICCROM-IUCN World Heritage Project at the Governor’s Mansion in Hawaii. Courtesy IUCN.|
Heritage folks know the importance of place. It is an often-promoted theme of The National Trust for Historic Preservation and a foundational concept for members of the American Association for State and Local History. Place matters. Place shapes the culture, and the culture shapes the places. Yet specialized professions often separate the two even when those who know it best do not.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has acknowledged this import potential for synergy through a program called Connecting Practices, which works to blend nature conservation with the work of the World Heritage Centre. During the IUCN’s World Conservation Congress, a subset of sessions addressed the Nature and Culture theme, with recognition that cultural heritage organizations are critical to protecting important sites and regions throughout the world threatened by development and by climate change.
Every four years the likes of World Wildlife Fund, UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, Global Environmental Finance, National Geographic, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, heads of states and of state and federal agencies, scientists, politicians, students, and a few humanities professionals gather to share their progress in protecting the global environment and to explore new approaches to address worsening planetary conditions.
The 2016 program included two tracks expressly focused on the past and future contributions of cultural heritage: the Nature-Culture Track, and an informal strand for urban organizations focusing on zoos, gardens, and museums, in protecting and caring for the planet and its natural, cultural, and human resources (described in a related post, here.) In both streams one theme was consistent: for the natural world to survive, the conservation movement must activate all available talents and resources; this includes cultural heritage and urban resources often overlooked when the focus has been mega marine and landscapes, and flora and fauna.
The World Heritage Leadership program directly connects cultural heritage with natural resource protection by acknowledging the misguided thinking that ever distinguished between nature and heritage. It will integrate nature and culture from the outset, centering on areas where world heritage sites have the most compelling potential to address pressing challenges such as climate change, biodiversity, and impacts from development. The Connecting Practice project at ICCROM piloted this approach to lay the foundation for the program.
The crux of the argument is that cultural settings reflect centuries of human use. The human systems likely existed more sustainably and may have lessons to teach us, and the cultural value of a landscape or marinescape has equal weight with natural value in establishing and maintaining a protection plan for a property.
Diane Barthel-Bouchier, author of Cultural Heritage and the Challenge of Sustainability, reviewed here, is concerned that as climate events threats and events become common experience, the sustainability movement within cultural heritage has gained leverage for attracting support through its reliance on science. She doesn’t want the cultural aspects to give ground to the science and nature aspects.
This is exactly the concern of IUCN and ICCROM. ICCROM Director-General Stefan De Caro called the conundrum “the conflict of competencies”, saying that poor and ineffective communication between outside experts and area residents, and between the culture and nature experts has prevented effective cooperation. The World Heritage Project focuses on changing that paradigm, of moving “From care of heritage to that of pursuing the well-being of both heritage and society as a whole”, says Gaminy Wijesuria, a project director at ICCROM.
What author Barthel-Bouchier values about “the commitment and activism of those living with or connected to heritage sites” can be heritage’s greatest resource. She writes that the "monuments and rituals" that we work to protect can create or reinforce "social solidarity that allows people to live and work together on common goals" – goals that protect culture and nature and create more sustainable and resilient regions.
There are five modules to the World Heritage Project approach:
- Effective Management: Nature, Culture, and Communities;
- Impact Assessment
- Learning Sites
- Leadership Networks
No matter what words we put to it, and how it’s segmented, it boils down to establishing effective practice by learning from and working with local and topical experts, by genuinely cooperating for the good of the resource, and its place in healthy natural and cultural systems.
As they begin their six-year project for reconnecting culture and nature, the partners will train practitioners to work together and with communities, test and share effective practice at various sites, and establish a network of examples for us all to build on. Bravo.