UNCTAD: if we want to meet our global sustainable development goals by 2030, we must tap into our vast cultural capital to change our behaviour.
Just within last few years, the world saw the destruction of Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral, the Brazilian Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro, founded in 1818, which housed an invaluable collection of 20 million artifacts, the destruction of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra by ISIS and the Buddhas of Bamiyan by Taliban. However, dozens of World Heritage objects are endangered with climate-related events such as flooding (see the risk assessment), erosion and other climate-related risks according to recent studies. Museums, archaeological sites, and historical buildings are rarely included in the policy agenda for climate change or sustainable development. Yet climate change is not selective, it affects everything: from local cultural practices to iconic sites of outstanding universal value (Daly et al., 2018).
Cultural sites play a significant role in the sustainable development of countries. Creative and cultural tourism is a leading generator of GDP for local and national coffers globally.
World Heritage, cultural objects and cultural sites play a fundamental role in the creation of common goods, cultural diversity, and ultimately contribute to enhancing social cohesion and bonds in cities and nations (UNCTAD, 2019). There is a need for enhanced governance and investment in the protection of our culture from our human-made actions and impacts of such actions.
UNESCO admitted that World Heritage despite its crucial importance to societies and the wide acknowledgment of its great potential to contribute to social, economic and environmental goals, was long absent from the mainstream sustainable development debate. The UNESCO Policy on the ‘Integration of a Sustainable Development Perspective into the Processes of the World Heritage Convention’ in November 2015 aimed to ensure that the conservation and management of World Heritage properties are aligned with broader sustainable development objectives (environmental sustainability, inclusive social development, inclusive economic development as well as the fostering of peace and security).
Many topics related to the mutual role of culture and sustainable development were highlighted during the 2013 Hangzhou Congress, "Culture: Key to Sustainable Development". This was the first International Congress specifically focusing on the linkages between culture and sustainable development organized by UNESCO since the Stockholm Conference in 1998. As such, the Congress provided the very first global forum to discuss the role of culture in sustainable development, with the participation of the global community and the major international stakeholders. The topics discussed included: introducing World Heritage policy in sustainable development agenda, public-private partnerships, culture's role in achieving sustainable cities, Cultural approaches to addressing Poverty, etc.
There is wide recognition of the mutual role of Culture and Sustainable Development, yet not much has been done to improve the governance and financing of cultural sights in the changing context of climate change and implementing the transformative 2030 Agenda. Isabelle Durant Deputy Secretary-General of UNCTAD wrote yesterday:"if we want to meet our global sustainable development goals by 2030, we must tap into our vast cultural capital to change our behavior".
There is a need for developing and implementing comprehensive governance and new financing approaches to protect and maintain cultural sites, rethinking the linkages between economic development and culture in order to preserve inter- and intragenerational equity. Some countries like Italy, where 60% of World Heritage is located, will need a particular focus on new approaches to funding and sustainable governance. Other countries which are strongly exposed to impacts of climate change to rising sea levels need to integrate their policies in climate change related policies and governance.