From the erosion of the Norfolk seaside to the inundation of ancestral desert land in Mauritania, climate change is already having a serious and often irreversible impact on people’s cultures and heritage.

Such impacts are one aspect of “loss and damage” – a term used to describe the consequences of climate change that can no longer be avoided, which tend to be heaped on vulnerable communities.

After the historic agreement on a fund for loss and damage at the COP27 climate summit in 2022, researchers met to discuss how to ensure the loss of cultures and heritage can be included in high-level climate discussions.

Carbon Brief was at the event to listen to the talks and discussion and has summarised the key takeaways.

What is cultural and heritage loss and damage?

“Loss and damage” is a term used to describe how climate change is already causing serious and, in many cases, irreversible impacts around the world – particularly in vulnerable communities. At UN climate talks, the term is often used by groups arguing for big historic emitters to be held responsible for losses incurred in poorer regions, which are the least responsible for climate change.

Loss and damage can be caused by immediate climate impacts, such as more intense and frequent extreme weather events, as well as impacts that gradually worsen over time, such as sea level riseenhanced coastal erosion and the retreat of glaciers.

According to the most recent assessment of climate impacts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), loss and damage can broadly be split into two categories: economic losses involving “income and physical assets”; and non-economic losses, which include – but are not limited to – “mortality, mobility and mental wellbeing losses”.

How can the loss of cultures and heritage from climate change be measured?

One of the major themes of the conference was to discuss ways that powerful stories of heritage loss from climate change can be properly measured and tracked to give an idea of impacts at national, continental and global scales.

Doing this will be crucial to get policymakers to take the issue of heritage loss seriously, said Clarke.

She told the conference about a study she was involved in that – for the first time – comprehensively assessed how sea level rise could threaten world heritage sites dotted across coastal Africa.

How can the loss of cultures and heritage be accounted for at UN climate talks?

As well as discussing how to get heritage into IPCC reports, the delegates also noted the importance of ensuring it features in the burgeoning loss and damage movement making waves at UN climate talks.

COP27 in Egypt saw countries reach a landmark deal on a loss and damage fund following a 30-year struggle largely led by small island states and developing countries.

Speaking to Carbon Brief in 2022, Sandeep Chamling Rai, a senior advisor at WWF and an expert on the UN climate change non-economic loss and damage taskforce, said that the loss of cultural heritage has so far been neglected at UN climate talks, with most looking at loss and damage from a “monetary point of view”.

Read the full article about culture and heritage loss by Daisy Dunne at Eco-Business.