The UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights invited stakeholders, including IFLA, to provide input for a report on the threat of climate change to culture, heritage and cultural rights.

These include the right to take part in cultural life without discrimination, scientific and artistic freedom, and the preservation of and access to cultural heritage. Beyond this, the report seeks to explore the positive potential of culture, heritage, and traditional knowledge on counteracting the effect of climate change and adapting to its impacts.

Climate action is a topic that transcends areas of study. Its intersection with cultural heritage is a priority for IFLA, from our participation as a founding member of the Climate Heritage Network to the important work being done in our Professional Units, such as the ENSULIB Special Interest Group.

To assist the Special Rapporteur in preparing her report, IFLA provided input on multiple questions within the following areas:

  • Negative impacts of climate change on culture and cultural rights
  • Positive potential of culture and cultural rights to enhance responses to climate change
  • Measures taken and recommendations

The Threat to Documentary Heritage

Documentary heritage gives us access to information, such as climate records and descriptions of traditional practices. This heritage, as well as the professionals that preserve and share it, are assets for climate action

We highlighted the threat to delicate documentary heritage collections posed by flooding, power-loss, smoke damage and other climate-related risks. In doing so, we also stressed the need to address gaps in capacity for disaster risk reduction and recovery in least developed and developing nations, including small island states.

Furthermore, the institutions that safeguard it, and in particular libraries, also have key roles in promoting, literacy, both traditional and digital, which is key to informed, participatory societies, which necessary for action on all SDGs.

In our response, it was therefore our goal to ensure that documentary heritage continues to be included in this discussion, both in terms of the negative impact climate change can have on its preservation and accessibility, as well as its potential to aid climate action.

Building Capacity

We also emphasized work already completed or underway at IFLA that could help build this capacity, including the IFLA Register for Documentary Heritage at Risk, the 2015 Recommendation Checklist, and guidelines concerning digital unification, disaster risk reduction, and library services to refugees.

Furthermore, we touched on the need to address the remaining digital divide to promote equitable participation in cultural life through online platforms.

Copyright for Heritage Preservation 

Finally, we voiced our concern for the lack of international legal provisions for heritage preservation, which leaves collections – and the cultural rights they help deliver – highly vulnerable to threats from climate change. For immediate action, we recommend stakeholders request an international copyright legal instrument with clear rules allowing the preservation copying of collections using all relevant technologies, including through cross-border collaboration.

We closed with a strong recommendation:

Start documenting threatened heritage sites and collections now, invest in disaster risk reduction measures and enable the digitisation of documentary heritage, or else they could be at risk for being lost forever.

Click here to read our submission in full.

The input provided by IFLA and other stakeholders will be included in a report and presented at the United Nations Human Rights Council in October 2020.