IFLA attended the session at the United Nations Climate Summit focused on heritage issues. With a strong focus both on the risks that climate heritage poses to all types of culture, but also the contribution that heritage can, in turn, make to our response, it was an opportunity to highlight the difference that libraries can make.

The Climate Summit, held on 21-23 September 2019 as part of the United Nations General Assembly, has the goal of providing an update on progress in mitigating and adapting to climate change, and encouraging further commitments.

Sessions at the Summit cover a wide range of areas where action can make a contribution, from the global to the local, and from science to policy. Culture was not left out, with a session focused on the interaction between climate and heritage, led by the government of Greece and claired by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS).

The session strongly underlined the risk that the harm caused by climate change to culture was often under-appreciated. The loss of key objects, buildings or landscapes could destroy social capital. Communities forced to leave areas where they have lived for generations without being able to take their heritage and culture with them often struggle to succeed in their new environment.

This called for a new approach to ensuring resilience in the face of change, not just in terms of protecting jobs and wealth, but also the cultural factors that hold groups together. As Professor Jeffrey Sachs underlined, failure to do this could be catastrophic.  

Professor Paolo Vitti of Europa Nostra therefore strongly recommended that culture and heritage be included not only in national development plans (as required under the SDGs), but also in the national adaptation plans promised in the Paris Accords.

This would not only ensure that these cultural factors were not forgotten, but indeed increase the chance that the contributions culture can make – to resilience, to livelihoods, and to understanding climate trends – could be properly realised.

IFLA’s engagement made it possible to underline the role of documentary heritage in particular, both as a key means of transmitting ideas and imagination, but also as the basis for much of the research we have on our climate.

We look forward to continuing to engage to ensure libraries are fully involved in future efforts to put heritage at the heart of the response to climate change.