The impact of climate change on built cultural heritage
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Heritage is a non-renewable resource whose value is increasingly threatened by the intensity and recurrence of hazardous climate events. As Quebec’s sustainable development commissioner pointed out in 2020, [translation] “Several phenomena associated with climate change may make it more difficult to safeguard real estate assets. In general, rising temperatures, as well as changes in the amount of precipitation or humidity, can exacerbate the degradation of materials used in the construction of heritage buildings.”

The floods of recent years, including those in Beauce and Baie-Saint-Paul, are striking examples of these threats to buildings and landscapes. However, they are not the only ones: coastal erosion, rising sea levels and repeated freeze-thaw cycles are other factors to consider. 

Climate change adaptation strategies may call certain heritage conservation standards into question. Responding to both climate issues and the desire to transmit our built cultural heritage may require flexibility. 

A pre-project in the making

It is in this context that Nathalie Bleau, scientific program coordinator at Ouranos, and Nathalie Hamel, from the heritage department at the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications, initiated the idea of an assessment the main issues, risks and potential solutions in adapting the conservation of Quebec’s built cultural heritage to the impacts of climate change. This pre-project is carried out by Claudine Déom, professor of heritage conservation at the Université de Montréal’s school of architecture

Objectives

The aim of this pre-project is to generate an overview of the issues caused by climate change in the management of built cultural heritage; in other words, to document, based on a literature review:

  1. The impacts of climate change on Quebec’s built heritage; and

  2. Changes in international approaches to the management of built cultural heritage. 

Relevance

Many heritage properties in Quebec are subject to severe risks due to climate change. That means it is important to identify what knowledge needs to be broadened and to find adaptation solutions that allow for preservation. 

In addition, the examination of the impacts of climate change on cultural heritage management approaches at the international level is worth reviewing. 

Built cultural heritage has strong potential in terms of sustainable development. Internationally, heritage is considered to be beneficial in achieving certain sustainable development goals.

This pre-project could provide the foundation for the development of a more in-depth partnership-based research project. With that in mind, recommendations for further reflection will be formulated.

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