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Climate change: Impacts on the cultural sector


Extreme weather events are already causing significant migration and displacement of peoples all over the world. In Scotland rapidly rising sea levels mean that coastal communities may disappear entirely. 

Cultural heritage will be affected by the social impacts of climate change as when people and communities are displaced from culturally important places they lose long standing and valuable traditions. Displacing communities from their homes can cut social ties and lead to a disruption of cultural practices including food, faith, music and community values. It also leads to a weakened local knowledge on recovery from shocks.

Heritage Sites and Traditional Buildings

Heritage sites have always been subjected to interactions with their environment, however, the radical changes in temperature and weather conditions caused by climate change catalyses the decay of these sites. Many heritage sites are at risk from issues like flooding, coastal erosion, and especially dry summers. These may lead to damage to historic buildings from groundwater, saltwater intrusion, or structural damage from storms. 

Climate change is also a significant problem for building interiors. Changes in indoor relative humidity can increase the speed of chemical and biological degradation, particularly for collections housed in historic buildings with fewer control measures. This can lead to paper and silk degradation, decay of wooden artefacts and an increase in mould decay just to name a few issues. As many of Scotland’s museums are in historical buildings this could lead to the damage of culturally significant collections, artefacts, and pieces of history. 

Preserving these sites is also important for maintaining traditions, identity, and historical knowledge. The loss of them may lead to a weakening of cultural practices and safety nets which can hinder a community’s ability to recover from disasters.   

We should not only protect these important heritage sites for cultural and historic reasons, but also because they can be used to mitigate and combat the effects of climate change. Some properties can serve as climate change observatories to gather and share information with regards to mitigation and adaptation practices. 

Protecting heritage sites is a crucial strategy to not only address climate change and biodiversity loss, but also to mitigate and combat it.