The Netherlands is not prepared for protecting heritage against climate change

News - 15 December 2020 - Communication BK

Climate change has major consequences for cultural heritage: pile foundations of historic buildings are deteriorating, and structures, landscapes and archaeological sites are in danger of flooding. The time for action is now, but the Netherlands is not ready for it, says researcher Dr Sandra Fatorić.

The drought in the Netherlands in the past two years has made it painfully clear how great the consequences of climate change are even now. Increasing subsidence across the country is probably linked to drought and the associated lower groundwater levels. This is a problem that particularly affects historic houses, churches and farmhouse, because they often have wooden foundations. “But cultural landscapes and hydraulic engineering works such as dikes, lock gates, pumping stations, and bridges can also be affected,” warns Fatorić. "National climate change adaptation policy is currently not explicitly addressing climate change impacts on cultural heritage."
Over the past two years, the Slovenian researcher investigated the risks of climate change for both tangible and intangible heritage. She also researched how to reduce the impact of climate change through climate adaptation. With support from the EU Horizon 2020 programme, she analysed and mapped the risks for over 63,000 nationally listed buildings in the Netherlands.
Locally there are all kinds of initiatives to counter the threat, but at the national level, there is no specific strategy to protect heritage facing climate change. The necessity for such a policy is shown in the three publications that have ensued from Fatorić’s research thus far. It is specifically reflected in her second paper on barriers or obstacles in climate adaptation policymaking.
Fatoric's analysis shows that more than 6000 nationally listed buildings are already at serious risk of flooding due to extreme rainfall. Land subsidence is a threat to around a thousand nationally listed buildings. In addition, more than 12,000 historic buildings are at high risk of damage to their wooden foundations.

Crucial knowledge

The big question is what can we do to prevent these gloomy predictions from coming true. A survey among 57 experts shows that the lack of a specific policy and risk analysis for cultural heritage and climate change are the greatest challenges. Fatorić: “If you don’t know what risks a historic building faces, it is difficult to protect or adapt it against climate change.” A detailed risk analysis is needed; her first publication provides an impetus for this.
Her third paper analyses how historic buildings, landscapes, archaeological sites, traditional practices and skills provide benefits to current and future climate adaptation and mitigation actions. Fatorić: “Cultural heritage is a valuable source of knowledge. We can learn from the past how to deal with changing climate and environment.”

The three papers

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