(We will be publishing a series of Blogs from Marrakech by Ian Lumley giving his impressions of the event).

Cultural Heritage as a Storehouse of Knowledge for Climate Adaptation - International National Trust Organisation INTO at COP22.

It is not widely known in Ireland that An Taisce is part of a great international movement of National Trusts working together under the International National Trust Organisation INTO umbrella.

All are membership based and rooted in the founding objective of the original UK National Trust in the late 19th Century:

  • to protect places of both natural and cultural heritage value
  • and promote their general appreciation and use for education and recreation.

Like An Taisce, all are now focusing on the converging challenge of Climate Change and global development. Many of the affiliate members are at the fledgling stage, while others have large memberships and manage significant properties.

INTO members range from the Australian National Trust and one of the main Netherlands’ heritage organisations, to groups with custodianship of individual sites, like a new member with one of the Gaudi buildings in Barcelona. The geographic spread extends from individual US States , Caribbean Islands, Southern and West Africa, India to New Zealand.

INTO has a stand in the huge exhibition and conference room areas and was directly involved in two of the formal "side events" with other partners including the UNESCO supported International Council for Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) over the last week.

INTO and ICOMOS are promoting the message under #ClimateHeritage that climate change threatens cultural heritage as much as the natural environment. At the same time, cultural heritage presents inspiration for climate resilience and adaptation, social cohesion, pride of place for people living in or around historic cultural environments and multi-cultural understanding through the appreciation of the varied legacy of human habitation of the planet.

The first event was "World Heritage and Water after Paris: Cultural Responses, Protected Areas & the 1.5 C Imperative".

The speakers sought to go beyond the familiar concerns around impact of rising sea levels on historic settlements and coral bleaching. The focus was on the role of Cultural Heritage in informing climate adaptation. Whether it's a World Heritage Site, a living local village or a mysterious archaeological feature, there is a story showing how humans have adapted to different environments over thousands of years. All contain valuable insights on traditional water management, food sourcing and agricultural practices or use of buildings materials from which lessons can be learned from today.

In a week where the election result threatens a major set-back to global climate action two speakers from the US were particularly inspiring: Andrew Potts of ICOMOS and Lynne Wilson of the Washington State based Seatrust Institute which promotes research and education on climate adaptation.

Both masterfully communicated the value of heritage to wellbeing, cultural identity and education and far for being just a legacy of the past provide us with lessons in adaptation and resilience to climate change. Andrew spoke of the value of traditional knowledge in buildings and agriculture and fostering community. Lynn linked the understanding of heritage to health and wellbeing. She described how indigenous heritage sites are “storehouses of knowledge” this evoking the most direct English language translation of An Taisce.

It has long been the message of An Taisce, that heritage sites provides us with insights and inspiration for the future. Marrakech, one of the world’s great medieval Islamic cities, provides a prime example.

My own experience, as a temporary resident in the old city centre, is how brilliantly the houses are designed around galleried internal courtyards using locally sourced clay brick and mud mortar construction. This keeps the place cool during the day while the thermal mass retains warmth with the night-time drop in temperature. This provides a major lesson in rethinking so much of modern building construction, where air conditioning is a major contribution to rising energy demand in warmer countries adding to carbon emissions, and the production of cement and concrete has a high energy input and carbon footprint.

The second formal platform session was "Culture on the Move: Sea Level Rise, Cultural Heritage and Climate Mobility".

This was co-hosted by INTO, ICOMOS, The International Polar Foundation and other bodies. The participants ranged from organisations with communities at the forefront of climate change impacts including those in the Arctic region facing frost melt causing subsidence of entire villages to communities and entire countries with rising seas around low lying islands.

The main focus was on how community structures, culture, and collective memory can be retained if people have to leave a village, which their ancestors have occupied for centuries. In some cases, there is opportunity to create a new place nearby on higher ground, replicating as much as possible the house layouts and food growing plots of the old one. In other situations, the response can only be relocation to another island. We heard the story of people who could not bear to move from their settlement because it meant being separated from their ancestral burial ground. How then can the cultural identity and legacy of that people be maintained?

The sessions generated response from people, across the world attending the event. One of the speakers from Nigeria outlined the impact of the shrinking Lake Chad and the effect on the four countries surrounding it. Another speaker from the US Sea Islands, stretching from the coast of Florida to Texas in the Caribbean, spoke of the converging impact of rising sea levels and increased Hurricane impacts.

The formal session was followed by a seminar in one of the pavilions with an opening presentation of visual images allowing for more interactive discussion. In one case we saw images and tombs where relatively recent burials had suffered subsidence and being engulfed by the sea. As one speaker said, climate change is not only destroying our future but taking our parent’s graves. It was the interaction and discussions which showed up the real value of the events and meetings at COP in allowing people working with threatened communities to meet organisation’s representatives able to provide funding support or compare experiences research and encourage those in affluent privileged counties to be more effective in their Paris Agreement response.

For its own part An Taisce will form allies and gain support for making Ireland a leader, and not as is now, a laggard, in Climate action.

Ian Lumley, Marrakech


Ian Lumley, Heritage Officer, An Taisce. Tel: +353 1 454 1786
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce. Tel: +353 87 241 1995
email: [email protected]
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland


About An Taisce

An Taisce is a charity that works to preserve and protect Ireland's natural and built heritage. We are an independent charitable voice for the environment and for heritage issues. We are not a government body, semi-state or agency. Founded in 1948, we are one of Ireland’s oldest and largest environmental organisations.