Climate change poses real threat to precious cultural heritage monuments

22 Nov 2013

Today saw the launch of one of the first-ever reports undertaken in the world to assess the potential impact of climate change on cultural heritage.

The launch was held in the city Museum of Skopje and was attended by the Minister of Culture Elizabeta Kamceska Mileska, the Deputy Minister of the Environment Stevo Temelkovski, the deputy German Ambassador Hans Helge Sander and the UNDP Resident Representative Louisa Vinton.

The report on Climate Change and Cultural Heritage was prepared jointly by the Ministry of Environment, GIZ and UNDP and provides clear evidence that the country’s archaeological treasures are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.  (Link to report)

The report clearly states that climate change will cause irreversible damage to the cultural heritage if no preventative action is taken.

UNDP Resident Representative Louisa Vinton stated that “climate change poses a very real threat to the precious cultural heritage monuments that both define a nation’s history and its values and, most often as tourist attractions, also serve as important contributors to economic growth and better living standards. Cultural heritage faces a special threat. Unlike natural resources such as forests, cultural heritage monuments cannot simply grow back after a destructive storm – when they are damaged, whether by extreme weather events such as floods or by human factors, that damage is most often irreversible.” (Link to full speech)

Minister of Culture Elizabeta Kamceska Mileska pointed out that the country “has a real wealth of cultural heritage and that this new report will further boost the efforts being made to protect these valuable assets”.

The findings of the report, arrived at through a vulnerability assessment, sound the alarm about the dangers of failing to preserve this unique heritage from the threats posed by climate change. To mitigate these threats, the report recommends a number of concrete steps.

The German Institute of Cultural Heritage conducted a thorough analysis of three sites selected as case studies:  the site of Stobi, near Demir Kapija; the Aqueduct near Skopje, and Plaošnik, near Ohrid.

Aqueduct, Skopje - Barely 400 meters remain of an aqueduct that once supplied Skopje with water. The aqueduct was still functioning only 100 years ago. Rain and hail, exacerbated by changes in the climate, are now undermining the aqueduct’s foundations. The structure urgently needs rehabilitation and protection to recover its stability and prevent the arches from possibly imminent collapse.

Stobi, Gradsko - Stobi was discovered about 100 years ago and is one of the pearls of the national cultural heritage. Twenty-six hectares of the ancient city have been only partially explored.  While the great scale of Stobi adds to its historical value, however, the very size of the site is also part of the preservation problem, since the protection of many buildings requires a lot of money. With dedication and effort, however, it can be hoped that revenue from tourism will prove a sufficient source of income in the future for Stobi to survive the effects of climate change. 

Plaošnik, Ohrid -This holy place enjoyed its brightest period in the times of St. Clement and St. Naum in the 9th and 10th century. It was at that time that the beautiful church of St. Panteleimon was first constructed. The church was re-built again in 2002 and the valuable historic heritage of Plaošnik has been far better preserved than many other archaeological sites in the country. In the near future, a new university will arise in Plaošnik, hugging the bedrocks of the historical University of St. Clement. At the same time as protecting those bedrocks, the new buildings will also present visitors with the site’s cultural foundations.

The report also identified a set of indicators that can be replicated in other locations, thus providing a valuable guide for national and local institutions.

UNDP has been working with the Ministry of Environment and other local partners since 2000 to help the country prepare for and adapt to for the very real threats posed by climate change.