Climate Heritage Coalition

author: Jeana Wiser

Climate Heritage Coalition Enters Its Second Year

From the National Trust’s Preservation Leadership Forum, May 17th, 2016 | a contribution to their series on climate change and cultural heritage by Jeana Wiser, resilient communities manager at the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Green Lab and a co-leader of the Climate Heritage Coalition. This is Part 4 of a series covering the Keeping History Above Water conference held April 10–13 in Newport, Rhode Island. [Part 1| Part 2| Part 3 | Part 4]

Last year’s summer climate change edition of the Preservation Leadership Forum Journal (Available for download here) covered the new Climate Heritage Coalition jointly initiated by the Union of Concerned Scientists, National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Park Service, Society for American Archaeology, and the J.M. Kaplan Fund. The coalition seeks to better align the efforts of thought leaders and key organizations in the heritage movement regarding the impacts of climate change on our cultural heritage and create a common platform and action agenda. Nearly 30 cultural heritage leaders attended the inaugural meeting in Tarrytown, New York, which resulted in an international Pocantico Call to Action. (At the link, you can add either your or your organization’s name to the continuously growing list of supporters.)


Attendees at the second Heritage and Climate Heritage Coalition meeting in Newport, RI. | Credit: Ashley Mercado

In April 2016 the coalition gathered for a second year, this time at Trinity Church in Newport, Rhode Island, following the first annual Keeping History Above Water conference. This meeting featured a larger and more diverse membership, with new organizations and experts adding value to the coalition. The 2016 meeting was attended by representatives of cultural heritage and science organizations ranging from The Arctic Institute to Sites of Conscience to the National Park Service. The conversation this year was noticeably more urgent and action oriented. Heading into the meeting, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the National Trust had two major common goals: share 2015 updates and set a 2016 action agenda.

The coalition had a tremendously busy 2015. All attendees documented their individual and organizations’ climate change and cultural heritage activities. Highlights include:

  • Leslee Keyes of Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, organized the first annual Heritage At-Risk event in summer 2015. The event featured a number of preservation and environmental experts discussing the challenges that cultural heritage faces in the era of a changing climate. Keyes is already busy planning related 2016 events.
  • Pieter Roos of the Newport Restoration Foundation led the organizing of the inaugural Keeping History Above Water conference, which focused on preservation, coastal communities, and sea level rise. Roos hopes that the conference can be held in a new historic coastal city each year.
  • Lisa Craig—representing the city of Annapolis, Maryland, and the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions—spoke at a number of national and international events in 2015 to publicize the work she has been doing in Annapolis to engage and educate the public about climate impacts today and in the future. She has created a strong template for cities directly integrating historic preservation into hazard-mitigation planning.
  • Cindy Brockway from the Trustees of Reservations reported about the organization’s recent engagement with the state of Massachusetts seeking to better integrate cultural heritage into state-level planning. Additionally, the Trustees—the largest land owner in the state—have recognized that the first step is assessing which resources are threatened and have thus undertaken a large and comprehensive survey effort to document what is at risk.
  • Victoria Herrmann from The Arctic Institute has recently kicked off “America’s Eroding Edges,” a multiyear project during which she will be interviewing people living at the intersection of erosion and climate change. In particular she is focused on places where communities are currently facing significant climate change impacts and perhaps even starting conversations about community relocation, including American Samoa, the Chesapeake Bay area, and Alaska. Herrmann is partnering with the National Trust to publish updates on her work. (Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for more on this).

Following the report-outs, attendees broke into four working groups. The subjects—international opportunities, partnerships, advocacy, and the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)—had been predetermined as areas of greatest interest and opportunity based on content at the Keeping History Above Water conference.Coalition Goals for 2016

The international opportunities working group recommended:

  • Continuing to elevate the work being done to “mainstream” cultural heritage into the Sendai Framework.
  • Focusing efforts on Habitat III, which is being held in Quito, Ecuador, on October 7. This international gathering will attempt to answer the question, “What is the effect of climate change on cities?” It will present a huge opportunity for Coalition members and others to specifically connect resilience, energy, and cultural heritage, particularly highlighting the reduced greenhouse gas emissions of energy-efficient historic buildings.
  • Then shifting efforts to COP22, which will take place in Marrakesh, Morocco, in November. This year’s meeting will focus on traditional knowledge, likely providing opportunities to connect traditional knowledge with water, agriculture, and heritage.
  • The creation of a hashtag to unite international climate heritage work.

The partnerships working group:

  • Discussed the overall relationship between partnerships and communication, emphasizing the need to create a “hub” of information about the relationship between cultural heritage and climate change. One idea was to build out the existing Keeping History Above Water website as a network and hub of information.
  • Focused on “taking the middle path”—coming together with communities in a way that is not strictly bottom up or top down.
  • Saw opportunities to use partnerships to broaden preservation, increase our diversity, and address social and environmental justice issues at the intersection of cultural heritage and climate change.

The advocacy working group:

  • Suggested leveraging Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s support for and dedication to climate science and action. Senator Whitehouse spoke at the Keeping History Above Water conference.
  • Recommended teaming up with other cultural heritage organizations during advocacy days in Washington, DC.
  • Identified opportunities for researching and drafting national legislation to strengthen the platform of the coalition, potentially based on the original Pocantico Call to Action.

The National Flood Insurance Program working group:

  • Focused their conversation on the National Flood Insurance Program’s recent changes that are impacting historic buildings, the 2017 NFIP reauthorization, as well as the Program’s relationship to the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.
  • Recommended collective advocacy around a 12 percent rate increase to more realistically reflect the risk facing historic buildings in a floodplain while simultaneously keeping rate increases more moderate than what is currently proposed. The group also suggested more flexibility for historic and older buildings that need to mitigate and adapt as well as acceptance of the fact that sea level rise and climate change are bringing a new normal.

This year’s meeting and planning for 2016 centered around networks, advocacy, flexibility, and solutions. The Coalition plans to formalize a 2016 action agenda and make it available to the public, potentially through a new website. As the Coalition continues to gain momentum and exposure, it looks to the preservation, archaeology, science, and environmental communities for additional members, partners, and advocates.

If you are interested in learning more or getting involved, consider joining the Climate Heritage listserv by contacting Jeana Wiser, Coalition co-leader ( You can also attend Climate Impacts: Creating Resilient Cities and Sites in Mobile, Alabama on July 28—that symposium is sponsored by Coalition members United States Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites and the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions.

Jeana Wiser is the resilient communities manager at the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Green Lab and a co-leader of the Climate Heritage Coalition.

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