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Highlights from Day 5 at SRI2022

Visualizing a sustainable future, and preserving culture and heritage against climate change

Predicting the future is hard. Scientists and foresight experts work with data and stakeholders to build scenarios, historians lean on their knowledge of the past to peek into the present and beyond, investors read weak signals – yet more often than not, we are surprised by life.

At the Sustainability, Research and Innovation (SRI) Congress’s closing plenary session, a group of leading professionals actively engaging with the future, scientists and science fiction writers, as well as foresight analysts, convened to give a taste of the future – or at least their makings of it.

The session titled, How to Visualize a Sustainable Future saw these experts explore different ways to approach the future – and shape it.

It is a well known fact that humanity is facing multifaceted global environmental change challenges, involving multiple stakeholders with competing interests, interdependencies, and uncertain futures – however, there are further discrepancies and disparities between the developed and developing world. 

Laura Bosch Pereira, Exxaro Research Chair at the Global Change Institute at Wits University and a researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre said, “We need to think more distantly… we need to bring an evidence of these futures that’s tied to the science but also acknowledges how complex these decisions are. 

“Are we representing the kinds of desirable, sustainable, equitable futures that we want to start striving towards? We’re always like ‘science says this’, and that’s where we’ll leave it. As scientists, we must think about how we bring our multiple capacities and expertise. We cannot remain neutral in this existential crisis.”

On what he thought of the current leadership spectrum in Africa and how it was governing the the current generation in the African context, Reinhold Mangundu, Foresight Practitioner at the Namibian Environment and Wildlife Society said, “As a young person who at times has been working with communities and has dealt with a lot of despair and uncertainty – I understand what it’s like to be on the precipice of civilization collapse. It’s really up to the government to build one common narrative of what progress means.”

He continued, “For  a long time, our leaders and politicians have had an obsession with wealth, even when it means – commodifying our lives. I speak from Namibia’s context. Where Elephants are sold to go to zoos in Dubai. Communities’ rights have not been respected – oil companies extracting… Oceans have been taken over because of mining. All these are elements of a system that’s been there for many years. In Africa, we can weave together a common narrative for what it means for us. Not for the 1%. 

At an earlier session on Cultural Heritage and Climate Change: New challenges and Perspectives for Research, panelists discussed the very real impact climate change has on culture and heritage assets – which are both tangible and intangible.

In 2008, the European Commission introduced the Joint Programming Initiatives (JPIs), a set of flexible intergovernmental programmes with the aim of better aligning research and innovation investments carried out at national level.

At least 10 JPIs were initiated by the countries that voluntarily agreed to be involved in joint activities, however the session was focussed on just two: the JPI on Cultural Heritage and Global Change to promote the safeguarding of cultural heritage and enhance sustainability and the JPI on connecting Climate Knowledge for Europe.

A White Paper titled Cultural Heritage and Climate Change: New Challenges and Perspectives for Research, was launched in March this year at a conference in Paris addressed to policy-makers, researchers and research funding bodies.

Katherine Warren, Head of History, Heritage, Languages and Literature at the Arts and Humanities Research Council, said the White Paper has set out a number of research gap priorities under five key themes.

These included: addressing the climate emergency, predicting and assessing the impact of climate change on cultural heritage, protecting cultural heritage, contributing to climate adaptation and using cultural heritage as a resource.

Dr Scott Alan Orr, a lecturer in Heritage Data Science at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage said: “Some of the key limitations on the state of the arts is that research on individual geopolitical regions – be them countries, territories or, in some cases, neighboring countries remains prevalent. There is little research we can see that looks at cross-cutting opportunities.

Quantitative and qualitative approaches to understand and develop strategies for culture and heritage and climate change remain siloed, and as such, there is limited understanding of culture and heritage as embedded in their socio-environmental context.”