Chair on Heritage Futures

Pact for the future


Our Chair made a written submission today for the UN Pact for the Future, to be drafted this spring and due to be accepted next September at the UN Summit of the Future.The submission stated, among others:

The Pact of the Future’s Chapeau should explicitly recognise the cultural condition of humanity.

“Climate change, world peace, artificial intelligence and other major challenges facing present and future generations are affected by, and affect, the way human beings, as members of specific communities, live their lives and make sense of the world, of themselves, and of each other. This is the important realm of human culture—going far beyond the attention sometimes given to cultural rights, indigenous cultures, the cultural and creative sector, and culture-driven development.

“To date, the cultural condition of humanity has seldom been harnessed, or comprehensively addressed, in global policy documents. This should change with the Pact for the Future, defining the world’s agenda for the future.

“Culture guides people’s goals, the values and ideas that govern their behaviour, and how they communicate and to whom. Culture and cultural heritage inform human trust, felt loyalties and senses of belonging, whether that is to specific places, to specific communities, to higher beings, or to their own species.

Understanding culture is a key capacity for increasing human well-being in the future. Culture must be guiding all actions inspired by the Pact for the Future. We welcome a UN Special Envoy for Future Generations and an Inter­governmental Forum for Future Generations which must have a strong mandate to work with culture and adequate cultural expertise in their teams of experts.

“Culture, including cultural heritage, is located at the intersection of past legacies and tomorrow’s possibilities. It changes – and needs to change – as the world changes: different futures imply new ways of being human and new narratives about the human past. Culture is therefore a key competence to be included explicitly when humanity unites to address the challenges for the world in a global Pact for the Future and in a Post-2030 Agenda.”

Our Common Agenda


Today I have been contributing to a Real-Time Delphi Study of The Millennium Project on foresight elements of the 2021 UN report Our Common Agenda.

The report makes several suggestions related to foresight. Here are my responses:

A Summit on the Future:

Such a Summit on the Future will draw global attention to foresight and futures thinking generally (much like the Rio Earth summit did).

The Summit on the Future needs to involve more than politicians, lobbyists, expert scientists, and celebrity activists. It should also involve a selection of ordinary people reflecting on their own lives and their cultural practices (I mean cultural in the ethnographic sense describing how people make sense of the world and live their lives accordingly). They will represent the billions of ordinary people.

A UN Futures Lab:

Include the theme of culture and how it may evolve in future decades, e.g. in the context of climate change and resulting migration, urbanisation, longer life expectancy, artificial intelligence, globalism, periodically shifting values. At the moment, culture is ignored in foresight and cultural practitioners ignore foresight themselves – as culture is widely assumed to be timeless (wrongly as we see in hindsight).

A Special Envoy for Future Generations:

Research shows that representatives (proxies) of future generations can sharpen decision-makers’ sensitivity to presentism, i.e. making decisions while assuming that the status quo is timeless and all futures will resemble the present. They can also support long-term thinking in decision-making.

See e.g. Kamijo, Y., Komiya, A., Mifune, N., & Saijo, T. (2017). Negotiating with the future: Incorporating imaginary future generations into negotiations. Sustainability Science, 12(3), 409–420. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-016-0419-8

Otten, M. (2018). Strong external representation of future generations: Legitimate and effective (Unpublished Masters Thesis.) Department of Philosophy, University of Leiden. http://hdl.handle.net/1887/65949 .

Other suggestions:

Introduce Futures as a school subject.

Climate Culture Peace


I am participating this week in a conference entitled Climate.Culture.Peace, organised by ICCROM with support of the British Council, among others. Registrations for the conference were completed by 1441 people from 113 countries.

The inaugural session on 24 January, Culture for a Liveable Future, featured contributions by 

  • Webber Ndoro, Director-General, ICCROM
  • Simon Kofe, Minister for Justice, Communication and Foreign Affairs of Tuvalu
  • Princess Dana Firas, UNESCO Goodwill-Ambassador for Cultural Heritage and President, Petra National Trust, Jordan
  • Ernesto Ottone, Assistant Director-General for Culture, UNESCO
  • Alexandra Xanthaki, United Nations Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights
  • Tim Badman, Head of Heritage, Culture, Youth, IUCN

In the following session, “What are the Links between Climate, Culture and Peace?”, David Harvey pointed out, intriguingly, that conflict can also be quite ‘sexy’ heritage and that we need to explore ‘pacific’ heritage instead.

My own contribution will be on Wednesday, 26 January, is part of a session on Culture, Climate and Drivers of Conflict, and entitled “Risks for peace due to promotion of heritage.”

Mondiacult and Our Common Agenda


Cornelius Holtorf was invited to address the regional online consultation for Europe and North America ahead of the UNESCO World Conference on Cultural Policies and Sustainable Development (Mondiacult) to be held 28-30 September 2022 in Mexico.

Introduced by Nina Obuljen Koržinek, Minister of Culture and Media of Croatia, Cornelius had 3 minutes to address the 100+ high-level participants, including several Ministers of Culture and senior officials from national governments, supranational organizations and NGOs throughout Europe and North America.

As part of a session on Strengthening synergies between culture and education for human-centred development and sustainability, he took the opportunity to advocate for the importance of foresight and futures literacy in the culture and heritage sectors to be better prepared for the challenges of the future, as proposed in the UN Director-General’s recent report on “Our Common Agenda”.

He also pointed to the significance of culture and heritage for promoting an agenda of global solidarity and trust both within and between societies, likewise in line with the UN Director-General’s agenda but in his report unfortunately not linked to culture or heritage.

Culture, cultural heritage and COP26


As COP26 is starting in Glasgow, the important role of culture in people’s lives is still neglected.

Culture shapes how people make sense and therefore act in the world. Often, what people consider to be important in their lives is connected to cultural patterns derived from the past – their cultural heritage.

A world being remoulded through climate change calls for two issues to be addressed using the power of culture and cultural heritage:

  1. Humanity as a whole needs more solidarity worldwide, mutual trust, and comprehensive collaboration to address pressing global challenges.
  2. People on Earth and their societies will need a greater ability to adapt to new conditions and embrace change.

Culture and cultural heritage are the key to assist present and future generations in adapting to changing circumstances, together.

The UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures is a member of the Climate Heritage Network.

UN Initiative “We the Peoples”


Cornelius Holtorf took part in the “We the Peoples” digital consultation of the United Nations. 

Building on the UN75 global conversation, the consultation invites stakeholders from different sectors to develop practical recommendations to: accelerate delivery of the commitments made in the UN75 Declaration, together with the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Climate Agreement; and to respond to new and emerging challenges.

He made two specific contributions:

Addressing Challenge 1: How can decision-making take more account of the future?, he suggested to “Enhance the capacity for futures thinking (futures literacy) among decision-makers.” 

Much decision-making about the present assumes unexamined that conditions will remain the same in the future. But based on all past human experience, this is not going to be the case. We can improve people’s ability to imagine alternative futures and design new strategies to act in the present in order to bring about novel futures.

Addressing Challenge 5: How can we build trust between people and institutions?, he suggested that “We need to learn more about people’s cultural meanings and values as they determine trust in society.”

Trust between people and institutions is an outcome of specific cultural meanings and values. It is easier to trust people and institutions that make sense in what they do and whose values you share.
Strangely, the realm of culture is vastly underappreciated in society, maybe because ethnology and social/cultural anthropology are very small subjects and not many decision-makers have much understanding of how human culture works.