Barriers in adaption to sea-level rise for coastal world heritage | Interview with Prof. Dr. Nassos Vafeidis (University Kiel)

Barriers in adaption to sea-level rise for coastal world heritage | Interview with Prof. Dr. Nassos Vafeidis (University Kiel)

Barriers in adaption to sea-level rise for coastal world heritage | Interview with Prof. Dr. Nassos Vafeidis (University Kiel)


Prof. Dr. Nassos Vafeidis (Christian-Albrechts Universität Kiel) talkes in the interview about „ Barriers in adaption to sea-level rise for coastal world heritage – The need for interdisciplinarity and innovation„. The paper will be presented at the postponed conference „Ground Check – Cultural Heritage and Climate Change

Effects of rising sea levels can already be noticed in coastal regions. Although adaptation can significantly reduce impacts, different challenges and barriers can limit its effectiveness. In the case of cultural heritage, new challenges may require novel, „out-of-the-box“ solutions. We explore challenges and barriers to cultural heritage adaptation to sea-level rise and identify opportunities that may emerge for coastal adaptation in general.

Prof. Vafeidis, can you give examples for challenges and barriers limiting the effectiveness of adaption to seal-level rise?

Different types of challenges exist, including economic, finance, technological, social and governance challenges. Examples of such challenges are: varying levels of adaptive capacity across nations, often expressed as lack of necessary funds and/or experience with large scale projects for coastal protection; unwanted effects of coastal protection measures, e.g. loss of beach tourism; conflicts over resources, such as illegal sand mining activities that lead to coastal erosion; Research based on case studies around the world shows that economic, finance and social conflict barriers, partly due to the redistribution of risks and benefits involved in coastal adaptation, are generally met before technological barriers.

Rising sea water levels flood the side walk in Venice | Foto: N. Vafeidis

What solutions are there to enhance the effectiveness of adaption to sea-level rise for coastal World Heritage?

Adaptation for coastal World Heritage cannot directly implement the solutions currently used in coastal adaptation worldwide. For example, by trying to protect a site with hard measure (e.g. dikes) we might risk destroying exactly what we are trying to protect, the OUV of the site.

The city of Venice | Foto: Nassos Vafeidis.

Further, due to the unique character of every site, it is very likely that “one-fits-all” solutions do not exist and every site would require individually tailored approaches (as see in the example of Venice). Nature-based approaches could constitute a promising basis for the protection of some WHS, but this still needs to be explored.

How can interdisciplinary work help in the process to protect Cultural Heritage from sea-level rise?

Due to the fact that we will require individual solutions for almost every site, which will be vulnerable to different factors associated to sea-level rise (e.g. flooding, erosion, salinization etc) a wide range of expertise is necessary for devising solutions to the challenges arising. I would envisage teams of coastal scientists and engineers, archaeologists, architects, chemists and many other disciplines needing to sit together to ensure that all attributes and complexities of WHS are addressed. I believe that WHS adaptation to climate change is a perfect example of the need for interdisciplinary science and can lead to the development of innovative solutions that can benefit coastal adaptation in general.

Thank you Prof. Vafeidis!

This interview was conducted via email.

For more information about the conference „Ground Check – Cultural Heritage and Climate Change“ visit our website.

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