These African World Heritage Sites are under threat from climate change

The view from the heart of Stone Town in Zanzibar. ALEXIS TOUREAU/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Very few academics or policy makers are talking about the impact of climate change on heritage. Yet heritage is essential for social wellbeing, for identity creation, for safeguarding traditional knowledge and livelihoods and for sustainable development.

The conversations taking place are mainly on the effects of climate change in wealthier countries. One recent study estimates that only 1% of research on the impacts of climate change on heritage is related to Africa. Yet climate change has already resulted in loss and damage to African heritage.

Three of us are contributing authors to the Africa chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change’s sixth assessment report. Our research for the report has drawn our attention to the total lack of quantifiable data on the impacts of climate change on heritage in sub-Saharan Africa. So we teamed up with a climate scientist with years of experience working on the continent and set about highlighting the threat of different kinds of climate change and climate variability to heritage in Africa.

Our research is conclusive. Without significant intervention some of Africa’s most important heritage will be lost as a result of the direct and indirect impacts of climate change over the coming decades. There is a need for research into the impacts of climate change on different forms of cultural heritage in Africa, and to highlight the possible harmful effects these losses will have on society more generally.

The next ten years will be a critical period in which research agendas can be developed that will have a practical application for the management of African heritage in the face of climate change. Read more

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