The world faces a climate and ecological emergency. The scientific evidence is clear: we are on course for a catastrophic rise in global temperatures, and are destroying natural species, populations and ecosystems at a rate not seen since the great prehistoric extinction events. The 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gives us until 2030 to avert the worst effects of this man-made environmental disaster.
The environmental crisis represents the greatest challenge facing humanity in our time, and threatens the very existence of irreplaceable cultural heritage such as the Abbey of St Edmund. While it is true that the conservation of cultural heritage is inextricably linked to activities with a high environmental impact, such as construction and development, building operations, land management, and tourism, our engagement with the legacy of the past can also inspire and deepen our responses to the current crisis. As a Heritage organisation, the Abbey of St Edmund Heritage Partnership is acutely aware of the necessity for responsible stewardship of our inherited world for the benefit of future generations and see its role as one of conservation and education.
We are proud to join over 194 heritage academics, practitioners and organisation, including English Heritage, the Historic Towns and Villages Forum and the Institute of Historic Building Conservation, in committing ourselves to:
- Be a platform for change by using our prominent position to tell the truth about the climate and ecological emergency, promote environmental awareness and action, and foster the cultural changes that are required in light of the immense challenges ahead
- Shift conservation priorities by actively seeking out opportunities to adapt heritage sites so as to reduce their carbon footprint and promote biodiversity, without harming their cultural significance
- Build and share the evidence by seeking a fuller understanding of the intersection between cultural heritage and the environment, promoting rigorous open-source research into carbon reduction, climate adaptation, and biodiversity in heritage contexts
- Conserve embodied resources by bringing whole-life carbon and energy efficiency analyses to bear on the choices we make and the causes we support; for instance, by advocating an evidence-based policy of retaining, maintaining, repairing and adapting existing buildings – whatever their formal heritage values – as an alternative to wasteful cycles of demolition
- Plan for sustainability by embedding climate and ecological sustainability at the foundation of heritage planning and funding, designing policies that prioritise environmental quality, sustainable living and transport, and flourishing and diverse ecosystems in historic places
- Rethink heritage tourism by rejecting approaches that magnify the environmental harms of tourism – for instance those that promote ecologically damaging infrastructure and increased air and car travel – and urging both public and private agencies to make the transition to low-impact alternatives.
- Empower practitioners by giving heritage practitioners and related specialists the support, training and resources, they need to offer detailed advice on green issues within the sector
- Protect skills and materials by supporting traditional building crafts, land-management practices, and understandings of place, as well as the use of local materials and supply chains, as much for their contribution to sustainability as for their innate heritage value
- Detoxify conservation practice by moving to eliminate harmful waste and pollution – for example that caused by single-use plastics, cements and other ecologically unsustainable products – from our sector, and by embracing materials with a minimal environmental impact
- Pursue ethical finance by following transparent sponsorship and finance policies that urgently address the threat of environmental breakdown, shifting partnerships and investments away from the most damaging industries and towards genuinely green alternatives