International
Murray Foubister / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

World - As the Climate Changes, How Do We Protect Venice and Other World Treasures?

With global travel curtailed during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are finding comfort in planning future trips. But imagine that you finally arrive in Venice and the “floating city” is flooded.

Would you stay anyway, walking through St. Mark’s Square on makeshift catwalks or elevated wooden passages – even if you couldn’t enter the Basilica or the Doge’s Palace? Or would you leave and hope to visit sometime in the future?

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently reported that over the next 30 years flooding in Venice will increase. With the Adriatic Sea rising a few millimeters each year, severe flooding that once happened every 100 years is predicted to happen every six years by 2050, and every five months by 2100.

Venice is just one example of the challenges of preserving iconic landmarks that are threatened by the effects of climate change, such as rising seas and recurrent, intensifying droughts, storms and wildfires. In my research as a social scientist, I help heritage managers make tough decisions prioritising which sites to save when funds, time or both are limited.

That includes planning for threatened World Heritage sites designated as cultural or natural treasures by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Many US national parks are also at risk. And as I see it, success will require new thinking about what preservation means.

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