Heritage at Risk and Climate Change

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Conservation and sustainability are inextricably linked. They are two sides of the same coin. The adaptation and re-use of historic buildings of all types has a vital role to play in tackling climate change.

In addition to their cultural significance, sweeping away the buildings and structures of the past without careful thought is extremely wasteful of both resources and the embodied energy they contain. In Europe construction and demolition accounts for approximately 25% - 30% of all waste generated.

Refurbishment offers a more sustainable, green alternative to the throw-away culture of the past decades. As we shape the future, it is essential that progressive conservation policies form an integral part of the planning process. Adaptation usually requires more craft skills than new development. It tends to create more jobs and helps to build higher levels of local skills for the benefit of all.

Heritage-led regeneration works. It pays real economic dividends. It is not a question of choosing between conservation and new development. A successful town or city can, and must, have both. The starting point is to understand the value of what exists which is why preparing a Commonwealth list of shared heritage at risk from neglect or misguided development is a one of our top priorities.

Across the Commonwealth, there are many examples of conservation-led regeneration schemes which have transformed cities, towns and villages. We can all learn from these. By adapting and recycling the legacy of the past, redundant buildings can be given a new lease of life creating exciting revitalised places which people value. From Penang to Cape Town and from Sydney to Zanzibar re-used historic buildings have provided a catalyst inspiring thoughtful new development based on an in-depth understanding of the actual context and qualities that make a place unique.

The Commonwealth embraces one third of mankind in 53 countries. It has a unique shared history and heritage. 60% of its peoples are under 30. Hitherto there has been no central focus for passing on an understanding of this remarkable legacy to future generations nor its potential for addressing new global challenges such as climate change.

The Commonwealth Heritage Forum is addressing this by bringing people together to share expertise and inspire them with a progressive vision of the future based on an informed understanding of the past.