The Royal Commission plays a key role in ensuring that the historic environment remains rich, varied and rewarding for the people of Wales, now and in the future. The research we do to understand different types of historic building, monument or landscape allows the best examples to be identified and protected from demolition or harmful alterations. The climate crisis threatens our historic environment, and the impact of this on our irreplaceable heritage sites is significant.
We have a two-pronged approach to what we call our “future generations” work, named after the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. On the one hand, our fieldwork and research increasingly focus on adaptation and raising awareness and understanding of the impacts of climate change. On the other hand, we are adapting our office environment and the way we conduct our business to make it environmentally sustainable, doing what we can to tackle the root causes of climate change.
We are increasing our knowledge, capacity and resilience to deal with the impacts of climate change on Wales’s heritage. We also play our part in making sure that today’s heritage decisions do not negatively affect the climate any further. Both these things are best done in partnership.
We are the lead partner on the six-year European-funded Ireland-Wales CHERISH project (2017–23), working alongside the Discovery Programme: Centre for Archaeology and Innovation Ireland; Aberystwyth University: Department of Geography and Earth Sciences; and Geological Survey, Ireland. The main objective of CHERISH (Climate, Heritage and Environments of Reefs, Islands, and Headlands) is to raise awareness and understanding of the past, present and near-future impacts of climate change on the rich heritage of Wales and Ireland’s sea and coast. CHERISH uses a range of techniques and methods to study a variety of sites, such as eroding coastal promontory forts and shipwrecks affected by rising sea-levels and stormy weather.
We are also a committed partner in helping to deliver the actions of the Historic Environment and Climate Change in Wales, Sector Adaptation Plan. This plan was published in February 2020 by the Climate Change Subgroup of the Historic Environment Group (HEG). It identifies climate change risks, opportunities and adaptation needs for the historic environment in Wales. The Royal Commission contributes directly through our own work programmes, but also as an active member of the HEG Climate Change Subgroup which, since writing the Sector Adaptation Plan, is now focused on promoting and coordinating its delivery.
We will continue to establish partnerships which will use our knowledge and expertise to tackle the root causes of the climate crisis in the historic environment. This will be the number one priority for our work going forward. One such area is our work on twentieth-century buildings in Wales, in particular post-war buildings, in which significant amounts of embodied carbon are stored. Understanding these buildings better, informing retrofitting and reuse rather than demolition and replacement, can have a significant impact on contributions to becoming a net zero nation. Joining forces with architects, material scientists and climate change specialists, we will be looking to secure funding to boost this research.
We understand that our day-to-day operations have an impact on the environment, arising mainly through the consumption of resources, travel and the generation of waste. We are committed to continual improvement of our environmental performance, reducing our carbon footprint and working towards the goals of sustainable development.
To this end, we’ve set up a Future Generations Working Group and an Environmental Action Plan, which sets out how we will work towards, meet or monitor our commitments in the Environmental Policy Statement. The continuing COVID-19 situation means that several planned actions are in abeyance while we are working from home. However, the pandemic has also radically changed the way we work in more positive ways. We print less. We travel less. We’ve had to move paper-heavy processes online. We will make sure to continue these greener practices when we return to the office.
We are committed to working to minimise the climate crisis and joining forces with others to do this. We’re proud to be a member of the Fit for the Future Network as well as the global Climate Heritage Network, a mutual support network of arts, culture and heritage organisations committed to tackling climate change and achieving the ambitions of the Paris Agreement. We will continue to learn from others, share best practice and use our knowledge and expertise to mobilise others to do the same.