Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety II
The Day After Tomorrow: With climate change leading to natural disasters striking with higher frequency and intensity, how can Europe best prepare to ensure the protection of vulnerable regions, safeguarding human life and cultural heritage?
The Topic in Depth
written by Enrico Zonta (IT)
Extreme weather events are dangerous; storms, hurricanes, avalanches, landslides and sea-level rise are only some examples of recurring phenomena that threaten human activities. Natural disasters are unpredictable, and they can have highly negative and far-reaching consequences in our society. Their variety differs from year to year, though their frequency and intensity have increased in the latest decades, with extreme weather events and singular occurrences showcasing the global weirding of the planet. These phenomena do not recognise national borders, and their causes go beyond one single country, as they are possibly related to global climate change. They put human lives in danger and can put the preservation of cultural heritage at risk.
The consequences of natural disasters extend to different European countries and can be of large proportions, from the abrupt interruption of food or energy supply to infrastructure damages. Emergency response measures are put in place to support the affected countries, both economically with the EU Solidarity Fund and through humanitarian aid with the EU Civil Protection Mechanism and the European Medical Corps. However, to prevent damage, it is necessary to not only have efficient emergency response, but also be prepared for disasters, for example thanks to precautionary storage of food, medicine stockpiling, and seasonal overproduction. While there is much focus on climate mitigation, the local and tangible consequences of climate change need to be considered through climate adaptation. Defense mechanisms such as early warning systems can be put in place as prevention for communities who live in risky areas, or human activities can also be reorganised towards moving away from risky areas, depending on feasibility and cost-effectiveness.
The EU defined its Adaptation strategy not as a one-size-fits-all solution, rather, with different actions depending on the affected area (e.g. coastal, urban, mountain area or a region exposed to flooding). Therefore, it is up to each Member State to develop and implement National Adaptation Strategies, Plans and Policies, although not all countries have done so. The Netherlands’ Adaptation Strategy has so far managed to tackle the frequent floods, preventing further damages, while the recurring floods and slides in Western Italy and Southern France prove that bad planning disrupts entire communities. Even though natural disasters come from nature and are unpredictable, the extent by which they affect us depends on the policies, plans and responses we put in place.
A dreadful consequence is the damage to tangible cultural heritage. For instance, rising sea levels are a threat for all coastal inhabitants, especially for cities at or below sea level, such as Venice and Amsterdam. Floods can also cause severe damage to cultural heritage. Avalanches and landslides can destroy sights and prevent their possible restoration. The risk posed to such places is a threat to the country’s and Europe’s common memory and history and a warning that human activities impact our whole society.
With antique buildings, monuments, statues, up to entire urban areas at risk of being damaged or destroyed due to extreme weather, preservation of cultural heritage is an essential field of policies and a competence exclusive to the Member States, as they are the sole responsible for laws on this topic. On the other hand, the EU has set a European Framework for Action on Cultural Heritage, determining the main priorities in the field, alongside developing programmes aimed at collecting and sharing data, best practices and research, such as HERACLES, STORM and PLACARD. While protecting cultural heritage is vital, it may not always be practical, cost-effective or free of risks. High expenses, potential of provoking further damages in the action, impracticality of creating barriers or impossibility to move the sight are only some of the obstacles that go in the way of preserving every cultural sight. Thus, it is also essential to prioritise useful and needed interventions and attentive planning.
Disasters put the very life of citizens at risk, as well as their well-being and mental health in the aftermath. They hinder the very existence of their houses and place of living, disrupting normal societal life. While we cannot prevent natural disasters from happening, we can avoid the damage, loss of lives, and common memory loss.
created by Beka Gvaramia (GE)
Food for Thought
Has any kind of natural disaster or severe weather event occurred recently in your country? If so, what was the response to the crisis, and how do you think it was tackled?
When it comes to preserving cultural heritage, what instances of relevant sights do you believe should be prioritised? On the other hand, what kind of cultural heritage would be too risky or expensive to protect?
Concerning climate change adaptation, do you think human activities should be reorganised to, in the long run, move away from the risky areas, or instead that protection should be ensured, allowing citizens to keep on living in risky areas (i.e. coastal regions)?
What role can science, research and technology have in responding to natural disasters, and how can they best be integrated into policies?
How can countries and regions better cooperate in emergency response measures?
Climate Change challenges to existing cultural policies, 2019 - Sustainability journal of MDPI. Extensive overview of the climate-related challenges in cultural heritage preservation.
Heritage at Risk: EU research and innovation for a more resilient cultural heritage, 2018 - European Commission. Analysis of EU-funded research projects aimed at protecting cultural heritage.
Adapting cultural heritage to climate change impacts, 2020 - Sandra Fatorić and Robert Biesbroek, SpringerLink. A Netherlands-based study analysing the strategies on climate change adaptation in relation to cultural heritage.
Disaster Preparedness in the EU, 2020 - European Commission. Overview of measures in place in the EU for disaster preparedness.
Countries' and cities' needs for Climate Change Adaptation, 2021 - European Environmental Agency (EEA). Article exposing the urgent needs for climate change adaptation.
Interactive maps with future Climate Change previsions, 2020 - European Environmental Agency (EEA). Maps of Europe representing the risky areas depending on the different environmental threats.
Warming Planet, Vanishing Heritage, 2018 - The New York Times. Digital Article exposing the climate threats to specific cultural sights.
Climate change impacts in Europe, 2017 - European Environmental Agency (EEA). Video describing the different impacts of climate change in the European continent.
Copernicus Climate Change Service, 2017 - Copernicus EU. Overview of the Copernicus project in relation to climate adaptation.