The Cultural Assets & Climate Change Literature Review and Research Synthesis: Report to the Office of Environment and Heritage NSW

McIntyre-Tamwoy, Susan, and Buhrich, Alice (2012) The Cultural Assets & Climate Change Literature Review and Research Synthesis: Report to the Office of Environment and Heritage NSW. External Commissioned Report. The Cairns Institute, Cairns, QLD. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

[Extract] Executive Summary This Cultural Assets Literature Review and Research Synthesis report was undertaken by The Cairns Institute for the Office of Environment and Heritage, NSW. The project collates available information relevant to the understanding and mitigation of climate change impacts on cultural assets and seeks to draw out the themes and issues relevant to the broader Sydney area. The project components were conducted within a relatively tight time frame. These included a literature review, a survey of practitioners and agencies and local governments and 6 targeted interviews based in part on the feedback from the survey.

Planning and preliminary work for the project began in late April and the literature review and survey was undertaken in May 2012. An EndNote database of all the literature reviewed was compiled. There are 324 references included in this database (see Appendix A). The targeted interviews were undertaken in July 2012. There were 47 respondents to the online survey. Significant themes and issues emerged from the literature review and survey including: • Lack of research funding; • Lack of political will and leadership on the part of government; • Frustration that climate change impacts on cultural heritage are not being addressed by governments at all levels in Australia; • The need for fine grained site specific research to go beyond general predictions; • Opportunities for information sharing relating to research projects and outcomes between researchers, cultural asset managers and policy makers. • The value of small community based projects AND • The needed for larger scale projects that can draw together the knowledge gained from the geographically scattered projects into a more coherent picture; • The importance of regular maintenance in maximising the resilience of cultural assets in the face of change; • The need for long term monitoring of cultural assets and the collation and dissemination of this data; • The importance of specific research on new pests and changing conditions and ways to mitigate these impacts; • The importance of local council and state government agencies to build cultural assets into their general climate change preparedness, and • A perceived urgency for identifying the likelihood of specific sites being negatively impacted and the development of priorities for research, mitigation and salvage.

There is broad recognition that cultural assets will suffer both direct and indirect impacts as a result of climate change. Direct bio-physical impacts are generally likely to involve an escalation in frequency or an increase in intensity of the impacts that assets are already subjected to. Such impacts are likely to be cumulative over time. However some direct impacts for some cultural assets may be catastrophic. For example coastal sites that currently experience impacts such as salt corrosion, saltwater inundation, and heavy rain from coastal storms are expected to experience these impacts with increasing frequency. Strategies such as building the resilience of cultural assets through regular maintenance, effectively protecting assets from known and existing biophysical impacts and understanding when these impacts become critical through effective monitoring are the key to the sound management of cultural assets in the face of a changing climate.

There is an urgent need to audit and assess the range, significance and distribution of cultural assets that might be affected by climate change and develop an informed response. Such a response might involve a range of interventions such as recording, salvage excavation, and stabilization. It is also important for governments to begin a conversation with the community about the nature and likelihood of climate change impacts on their cultural assets and to better understand community expectations for the management of these places. In many cases existing projects and programs may be able to be adapted so that they adequately address the issue of climate change and cultural heritage although increased investment in research and conservation activity will be required.

Unfortunately, it is clear that governments in Australia are under- investing in cultural assets and this must be addressed. The cost of inaction now will compound the cost of remedial action for future generations as well as exacerbate the non-monetary costs associated with the social impact of the unnecessary loss of cultural heritage places and values. The climate change focus of local governments needs to shift from the immediate urgency of 'liability' back to a focus on nurturing and working for communities. In the short term however these fundamental shifts are unlikely to occur and this report has identified a number of opportunities to advance our understanding of the impacts of climate change on cultural assets and to develop useful projects with little additional financial commitment. These opportunities involve Local Government broadening existing projects and the State Government facilitating effective action through information sharing and the provisions of tools such as web based information repositories.

The lessons from this research are not restricted to government. There is a body of research that indicated that there is a human tendency to be poorly prepared for distant, future and abstract risks and there is increasing concern that the professionalization of the cultural heritage industry has led to disengagement with heritage at the community level. Therefore it is essential that the heritage profession (including both individual practitioners and non government organisations) and asset managers find new ways to capture community attention to this important issue through communicating 'emotive and concrete understandings of heritage loss' (McCarthy 2011:9).

Item ID: 23611
Item Type: Report (External Commissioned Report)
Keywords: climate change; cultural heritage, adaptation
Funders: Office of Environment and Heritage NSW
Date Deposited: 18 Dec 2012 04:31
FoR Codes: 21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2199 Other History and Archaeology > 219999 History and Archaeology not elsewhere classified @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9603 Climate and Climate Change > 960301 Climate Change Adaptation Measures @ 100%
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