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18 November 2020

New partnership project to support climate action in Africa

Tool trialled in Orkney will measure climate change threat to cultural heritage in Africa

Ruins of the entrance to Kilwa Kisiwani port in Tanzania

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) is part of a new project focusing on climate impacts to Africa’s cultural heritage which was launched today (Wed 18 Nov).

Led by Queen’s University Belfast, African World Heritage Fund, University of the Highlands and Islands and HES, the Climate Vulnerability Index (CVI) for World Heritage properties in Africa (CVI-Africa) will see a tool piloted in Orkney last year used to assess the threat that climate changes poses to heritage sites in Africa, focusing on the Sukur Cultural Landscape in Nigeria and The Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara in Tanzania.

In 2019, The Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site – which comprises historic sites such as Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar – was the first cultural heritage site in the world to undergo CVI assessment as part of a workshop which brought together leading climate scientists and heritage professionals from across the globe.
Following the pilot, a report was submitted to the World Heritage Committee recommending wider application of the CVI methodology, highlighting its significant potential to help address climate change challenges at World Heritage sites worldwide.

Across the globe, rising sea levels, soaring temperatures and increasing extreme weather events place people, communities and their heritage on the frontline of climate change. Africa is projected to warm more rapidly than most other regions in the world, meaning this already vulnerable continent will be hard-hit by the impacts of climate change.

Alex Paterson, Chief Executive of HES, welcomed the announcement. He said:

Here in Scotland we are keenly aware of the threats that climate change presents to our historic sites, and HES has been at the forefront of work to better understand and address these impacts.

“But this is a global crisis, and it is crucial that organisations and communities work together – locally, nationally and internationally – to face this shared challenge.

“Through the CVI-Africa project, we are very pleased to have the opportunity to share our expertise to bring real benefit for communities and their cultural heritage in Africa.”

Dr Ewan Hyslop, Head of Technical Research & Science at HES and Co-Investigator in the CVI-Africa project, said:

“It was an honour for the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage site to be chosen as the first cultural heritage site to apply the CVI methodology, and a great opportunity to bring together a wide range of international experts to work collaboratively in the face of the shared challenge of climate change.

It is heartening to think that methods trialled in Orkney could have a significant positive contribution to the resilience of cultural heritage in Africa, and we look forward to the project developing. ”

The CVI-Africa project will provide foundational training in the CVI method to six African heritage professionals. The project will culminate in workshops at two World Heritage Sites impacted by climate change -- the Sukur Cultural Landscape in Nigeria and The Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara in Tanzania. These workshops will include the six heritage professionals, local and national experts and stakeholders, and international partners. Workshop partners include the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism and the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments. The results will be published and publicly available.

More broadly, the CVI-Africa project will support communities in their efforts to safeguard cultural heritage, respond to climate change and seek sustainable development options.

Dr Albino Jopela of the African World Heritage Fund, a co-investigator on the project, said:

Despite the intensifying threat, there remains a lack of attention to the cultural dimensions of climate change and this is especially true across the African continent. The CVI-Africa project will help fill this gap.”

Speaking about the Sukur Cultural Landscape, Dr Ishanlosen Odiaua of ICOMOS Nigeria said:

“Sukur reflects the complexity of assessing vulnerability. Located in the Mandara Mountains along the Cameroon-Nigeria border, the impacts of climate change have induced shifts in the political and local economies, with attendant risks to cultural heritage.

Supporting local communities and national authorities to develop tools that build on local experience and realities, can help them manage these risks and plan for the future. We hope that the CVI can contribute to fulfilling that need.”

For many sites, adapting to the impacts of climate change has been a necessity over the last decade. Mercy Mbogelah who is Site Manager of Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara World Heritage Site in Tanzania notes that:

“Climate change has brought a lot of impacts to cultural heritage resources especially to the monuments which are located along the coast at Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara.

Although we took some adaptation measures to stop the speed of wave actions going direct to the monuments, more action and learning experiences from others is needed.

"For this matter the CVI-Africa project will bring us together to find more actions to reduce or stop these challenges.”

Find out more about CVI-Africa

Photo credit: Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani in Tanzania © Will Megarry 

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