Intangible Cultural Heritage and Climate Change—How Adaptation in Climate Change Can Have Effects on ICH

ICH and Climate Change © shutterstock

The interesting relationship between tourism, ICH, and climate change has important economic and developmental implications (Hernandez and Ryan, 2011). Much less written or perhaps discussed, is the potential effects climatic changes have on the intangible aspects of culture.

ICH, the very thing that gives cultures a unique identity, whose aspects often cannot be seen, is vulnerable to climate change and even the things we do in adapting to climate change. Climate change threatens the existence of ICH, by making preservation efforts more difficult and by causing resources to be less accessible. This has interesting effects on the tourism industry.

Climate change adaptation potentially creates new policies (including tourism policies), and the implementation of these policies can potentially be challenging. In climate change science, adaptation refers to “the process, action or outcome in a system” (Smit and Wandel, 2006:282) and so this makes adaptation’s impacts on ICH potentially interesting but also complex and wide ranging.

Climate change adaptation strategies often involve various stakeholder groups, and these diverse stakeholders may well have area-specific adaptation practices, and this might have effects on how national tourism plans are carried out (not necessarily for the worse).

Adaption to climate change often runs parallel with mitigation strategies. We have to be aware that mitigation and adaptation might run the risk of producing contradictory impacts and/or reactions on tourism. Climate change adaptation, often seen as positive, may well support the development of special interest / niche tourism. This could be due to adaptation requiring that resources be used alternatively, creatively and sparingly, partly in the name of resource conservation. And this may also give rise to more opportunities for the preservation of ICH.

Climate change adaptation often also has the important goal of increasing resilience of stakeholders (to climate change impacts). Increased resilience enables the preservation of ICH. Folke et al., (2005, Olsson et al. 2006) stated that participation allows for a continuous interchanging communication between scientific and lay knowledge because new governance and learning arrangements are expected to promote adaptability. That is good news for people involved in the protection of ICH.

Adaptation therefore will change the way we preserve our cultures, or at least the way we look at the preservation of cultures and heritage. It could support the doing away of certain forms of tourism that destroys more than supports, damages more than repair. Adaptation to climate change should thus be seen as supporting the preservation of cultures and heritage, not a threat.


  • Hernandez, B., A., Ryan, G. 2011. “Coping with Climate Change in the Tourism Industry.” Tourism and Hospitality Management, Vol. 17, No. 1, pp. 79-90
  • Lise, W. and Tol, R.S.J. 2002. Impact of Climate on Tourist Demand, Climate Change 55, 429-449.
  • Smit, B., and J. Wandel. 2006. Adaptation, Adaptive Capacity and Vulnerability. Global Environmental Change 16(3):282-292.

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