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World-first tool to assess climate risks in World Heritage areas

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Source: James Cook University

James Cook University researchers have developed a tool to rapidly assess climate risks to World Heritage properties as more of the planet faces threats from climate change. 

Dr Scott Heron and PhD student Jon Day have developed the Climate Vulnerability Index (CVI), filling a need for an assessment tool that can be applied to all types of World Heritage properties. 

They have been invited to present outcomes of their work at several events during the international meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Baku, Azerbaijan (29th June – 10th July).

The CVI has been in development for over a year, and Dr Heron and Mr Day have worked closely with colleagues, local and international, to trial the new assessment tool in different locations.

“Shark Bay, Western Australia, a natural World Heritage property, hosted the first CVI workshop,” Dr Heron said.

“The first cultural World Heritage property to apply the CVI was in Scotland ­– ‘The Heart of Neolithic Orkney’.  The climate vulnerability of World Heritage values was assessed in the highest risk category for both.  The vulnerability of the Shark Bay community was also in the highest category, whilst the community vulnerability in Orkney was in the middle category recognising the adaptive capacity of that community.  We have interest from other World Heritage properties across Australia and internationally in conducting CVI workshops,” he said.

There are nearly 1100 World Heritage areas – natural, cultural and mixed – around the world.

“While these are ‘the best-of-the best’ globally, many of these properties are already experiencing significant negative impacts and damage from climate change including sea level rise, extreme precipitation, rising temperatures, flooding, coastal erosion, drought, worsening wildfires, and human displacement,” Mr Day said.

“The CVI is being accepted by an increasing number of countries and properties, and has been endorsed by the Climate Change and Heritage Working Group of ICOMOS, the International Council for Monuments and Sites  that is one of three Advisory Bodies to the World Heritage Committee,” said Adam Markham, co-developer of the CVI and Deputy Director for Climate & Energy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, USA.

The agency responsible for the Orkney site, Historic Environment Scotland, is already planning further workshops to apply the tool in their other World Heritage properties.

Several other CVI workshops are also being planned to occur in the next 12 months, including in the Wadden Sea (Germany, Netherlands, Denmark) and the Vega Archipelago in Norway.

The Orkney workshop report has now been formally launched and is available here:



Contacts: (Dr Herron and Mr Day are in Baku, but are available on Zoom and Skype).

Dr Scott Heron

Mr Jon Day