Heritage and climate change
Former Police Headquarters Credit: © 2018 HIN LIM AIPP | Hin Lim Photography

Heritage and climate change

The United Nations defines “climate change” as a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods
(United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 1992)

The Victorian Government acknowledges that the effects of climate change are already being experienced across Victoria.

Victorian places and objects of heritage significance protected under the Heritage Act 2017 are also being affected by climate change. The absence of a collective understanding of the risks and opportunities for heritage places associated with climate change, and of related policy and management advice, is already causing challenges for regulators and heritage owners/managers.

The Heritage Council of Victoria, in partnership with Heritage Victoria, have started a project to understand how Victoria’s cultural heritage places and objects will be impacted by climate change so that policy and guidance can be created where it will be of most benefit.

This project will tie into the wider Victorian Government drive to develop robust approaches to adaptation as a critical step in building resilience in communities and securing a healthy and prosperous future for all Victorians.

The first phase of the ‘Heritage and Climate Change’ project has delivered a set of six provisional principles to guide policy, strategy development and decision making in the management of Victorian cultural heritage places and objects protected under the Heritage Act.

These principles will be tested as part of the second phase of the project, which will be completed – and communicated – in the second half of 2022.

Principles on the protection and conservation of Victorian cultural heritage places and objects protected under the Heritage Act 2017 from the impacts of climate change

Victoria is experiencing the effects of climate change. Unconstrained climate change will have serious economic, environmental and social impacts.

Victoria is already losing heritage places to the impacts of climate change. These impacts are cumulative and will accelerate. Urgent action is needed.

The following provisional principles are to guide heritage policy development, decision making, adaptation and rapid response to climate change into the future.

Principle 1: Taking a values-based approach: understanding the values of the place or object

Heritage values distinguish heritage places and objects. Heritage values are dynamic and change over time. Policy and actions to manage the impacts of climate change on heritage places and objects should take a values-based approach that is inclusive of tangible and intangible heritage, natural, community and economic values. Understanding how heritage values are reflected in fabric is a prerequisite for the assessment of, and responses to, climate risks to heritage places and objects.

Principle 2: Evidence-based decision making

Actions to manage the impacts of climate change must be based on comprehensive analysis of current climate science, climate change projections and hazards and recognise the uncertainty of those projections1. They must also be fully cognisant of the heritage values and condition of the heritage place, and the implications of loss, including economic. It should be recognised that local conditions and circumstances will likely have the greatest bearing on the extent and nature of the impacts.

Principle 3: Assessing risks and resilience

Assessment of the risks of climate change to heritage values, and the vulnerability of individual places and objects to those risks and their capacity for adaptation, is fundamental for risk preparedness and building resilience. Assessments of vulnerability to climate change hazards must recognise that climate change impacts to heritage values are diverse and may be short or long-term and cumulative, and they could include complete loss. Assessment of risk and resilience should guide action.

Principle 4: Engaging communities

Information about climate change risks to heritage places and objects should be provided to communities. Community knowledge should inform assessment of risks and the management of climate change impacts to heritage values. Communities should be provided with access to the results of risk assessments and with opportunities to participate in decision making.

Principle 5: Responsive strategies

Strategies for adaptation and mitigation should be responsive to the scale and severity of the impact while at the same time recognising and planning for the inevitable loss of some heritage places and objects. Strategies will need to be flexible and innovative to deal with uncertainty in managing climate change impacts. Possible approaches should be widely shared across government and communities. These approaches may include nature-based solutions2 that offer long term protection against flooding, storms, and sea-level rise.

Principle 6: Integrating management approaches

Climate change compounds existing threats to heritage values. Management of climate change impacts should be integrated into existing and new heritage management plans. Existing management processes and methods may need to change. Organisations should add climate change to their risk registers and regularly review both the identified risks and mitigation measures. Organisations should consider the embodied energy in heritage places and the potential contribution of adaptation measures to greenhouse emissions. Assessment and management of climate change impacts to heritage values should be integrated into climate change policies and actions across government agencies and all levels of government.

1. The CSIRO (2018) ‘Climate Compass’ recommends that the high emissions scenario (RCP8.5) be used to make decisions with short lifetimes and that risk treatments that play out over the medium to long term (for example, for large infrastructure and land use planning) should look for responses which are robust to this uncertainty.
2. Nature-based Solutions are actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural and modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits.

The above information is from a report prepared for the Heritage Council of Victoria and Heritage Victoria as part of the project’s first phase by Ian Travers (Extent Heritage), Dr Anita Smith (Extent Heritage), Christophe Brulliard (Point Advisory) and Peter Cox (Carrig Conservation International) and we would like to acknowledge their work in this area.

The Heritage Council would also like to thank Paul Balassone, Prof Tim Entwisle, Simone Ewenson, Susan Fayad, Catherine Forbes, Peter Harvey, Jeremy Hill, Helen Lardner, Prof Susan Lawrence, Elizabeth Marsden, Helen McCracken, Paul Roser, Maggi Solly, Ross Turnbull, Felicity Watson, Dr Kim Wilson, Tanya Wolkenberg and Daniel Zwartz who provided feedback as part of the project’s first-phase research.

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