An integrated approach for assessing the vulnerability of World Heritage Sites to climate change impacts

Elena Sesana, Alexandre Gagnon, Alessandra Bonazza, John Hughes*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Citations (Scopus)
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One of the most difficult problem facing those responsible for managing World Heritage Sites (WHS) is climate change, as it poses continuous new challenges to the conservation of cultural heritage. Moreover, as our climate continues to change our cultural heritage will potentially be exposed to diverse pressures and potentially to risks not previously experienced. Thus, management practices will need to be tailored in order to include climate change impacts. For climate change impacts to be incorporated into preservation frameworks and management practices from government policy level down to the practice in the field, data, information and assessment methods need to be available at a scale relevant to decision-makers. This paper presents an integrated vulnerability assessment methodology and applies it to three UNESCO cultural WHS in Europe. Through this process, semi-structured interviews were conducted with academics and experts in the management and conservation of cultural heritage, as well as with the managers and coordinators of WHS. The incorporation of bottom-up knowledge in the assessment process allowed for an understanding of the sensitivity and adaptive capacity of the sites, two components of vulnerability that are not given sufficient attention and ignored, respectively, in typical top-down climate change impact assessments. In particular, the interviews elucidated the determinants that enable or constrain the capacity to adapt, i.e., resources, including technical, economic and human; information and awareness; management capacity; learning capacity; leadership; communication and collaboration; and governance; with the lack of resources most commonly mentioned as the determinant impeding adaptation. ‘Information and awareness’ and ‘management capacity’ are determinants that were not previously identified in the field of cultural heritage. The former stresses the need to disseminate the results of scientific research for their incorporation in the management of heritage sites. Vulnerability assessments such as those performed in this paper can be used to target interventions to protect and strengthen the resilience of cultural heritage to climate change impacts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)211-224
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Cultural Heritage
Early online date17 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020
EventWorkshop on vulnerability and adaptation of cultural heritage to climate change - New Lanark World Heritage Site, Lanark, United Kingdom
Duration: 22 Mar 201822 Mar 2018


  • Climate change
  • Cultural heritage
  • Europe
  • Vulnerability assessment
  • World Heritage Sites


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