New initiative ‘Heritage Declares’ launches climate emergency commitment; Seeks personal and corporate support

Heritage Declares, a non-affiliated group of heritage practitioners who have come together to urge the sector to react more quickly and effectively to the climate and ecological emergency, is calling for sector support for its commitments.

Heritage Declares writes:

The world faces a climate and ecological emergency. The scientific evidence is clear: we are on course for a catastrophic rise in global temperatures, and are destroying natural species, populations and ecosystems at a rate not seen since the great prehistoric extinction events. The 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gives us until 2030 to avert the worst effects of this man-made environmental disaster.

The conservation of cultural heritage is inextricably linked to activities with a high environmental impact, such as construction and development, building operations, land management, and tourism. At the same time, engagement with the legacy of the past can inspire and deepen our responses to the current crisis.

The roots of heritage conservation, with its call for inter-generational solidarity and responsible stewardship of the inherited world, are deeply interwoven with those of the environmental movement. Heritage – be it tangible or intangible, built or below ground – is all around us. It has a prominent place in the public imagination, and a corresponding power to shape public opinion.

The environmental crisis represents the greatest challenge facing humanity in our time, and threatens the very existence of irreplaceable cultural heritage. While any adequate response to that challenge must meet the tests of social need, economic justice and human well-being, it will also require a genuine shift in existing cultural values and practices. As individuals and organisations involved in the heritage sector, we are determined to make that shift, and to address the present emergency with all the resources at our disposal.

We therefore commit to:

1. Be a platform for change
by using our prominent position to tell the truth about the climate and ecological emergency, promote environmental awareness and action, and foster the cultural changes that are required in light of the immense challenges ahead
2. Shift conservation priorities
by actively seeking out opportunities to adapt heritage sites so as to reduce their carbon footprint and promote biodiversity, without harming their cultural significance
3. Build and share the evidence
by seeking a fuller understanding of the intersection between cultural heritage and the environment, promoting rigorous open-source research into carbon reduction, climate adaptation, and biodiversity in heritage contexts
4. Conserve embodied resources
by bringing whole-life carbon and energy efficiency analyses to bear on the choices we make and the causes we support; for instance, by advocating an evidence-based policy of retaining, maintaining, repairing and adapting existing buildings – whatever their formal heritage values – as an alternative to wasteful cycles of demolition
5. Plan for sustainability
by embedding climate and ecological sustainability at the foundation of heritage planning and funding, designing policies that prioritise environmental quality, sustainable living and transport, and flourishing and diverse ecosystems in historic places
6. Rethink heritage tourism
by rejecting approaches that magnify the environmental harms of tourism – for instance those that promote ecologically damaging infrastructure and increased air and car travel – and urging both public and private agencies to make the transition to low-impact alternatives.
7. Empower practitioners
by giving heritage practitioners and related specialists the support, training and resources they need to offer detailed advice on green issues within the sector
8. Protect skills and materials
by supporting traditional building crafts, land-management practices, and understandings of place, as well as the use of local materials and supply chains, as much for their contribution to sustainability as for their innate heritage value
9. Detoxify conservation practice
by moving to eliminate harmful waste and pollution – for example that caused by single-use plastics, cements and other ecologically unsustainable products – from our sector, and by embracing materials with a minimal environmental impact
10. Pursue ethical finance
by following transparent sponsorship and finance policies that urgently address the threat of environmental breakdown, shifting partnerships and investments away from the most damaging industries and towards genuinely green alternatives.

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