The World Monuments Fund Announces a New $15M Climate Change Initiative

WMF's new projects for 2024 include restoring traditional water capture and storage tanks across India.

Two men step over rubble of building
Turkey’s Antioch Greek Orthodox Church in December 2023. Courtesy WMF

The World Monuments Fund, an independent nonprofit dedicated to safeguarding cultural heritage, is pouring $15 million into a new climate initiative.

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Announced yesterday (Jan. 17) with several other projects slated for 2024, the organization’s Climate Heritage Solutions will tackle threats to traditional water management systems, historic gardens and coastal heritage sites. The newly created initiatives come as recent UNESCO figures estimate one in six cultural heritage sites are threatened by climate change.

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The World Monument Fund (WMF) will further expand its climate efforts by conducting evaluations of climate-related threats at each new project and appointing Meredith Wiggins, an archeologist and environmental researcher, as senior director of climate adaptation for the New York City-based organization.

“While the magnitude of the threat posed by climate change to societies around the world is widely recognized, its particular impact on cultural heritage remains understudied,” said Bénédicte de Montlaur, president and CEO of WMF, in a statement. “At a time when shifting weather patterns and natural disasters continue to strike communities and strain the built environment, we feel that we as heritage professionals have unique and valuable expertise to share about cultivating resilience through preservation.”

Green pool of water in middle of historic looking building
Water levels at Rajon Ki Baoli, Mehrauli, New Delhi, India. Courtesy Ajadeep Singh Jamwal/WMF

Traditional water management in India, Nepal and Peru

A priority for Climate Heritage Solutions will be emphasizing traditional water management systems to help communities struggling with water scarcity. Urban water demand will increase by 80 percent by 2025, according to the UN, leaving 2.4 billion people in cities facing water scarcity. Those living in more rural communities, meanwhile, are seeing their water use at risk due to changes in seasonal rainfall and the over-extraction of groundwater.

WMF’s climate-related projects will include rehabilitating historic water systems at five sites in India where traditional infrastructure has fallen into disuse, in addition to providing conservation guidelines for traditional water distribution systems in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal, that have been interrupted by rampant development. The organization also plans to help rehabilitate traditional Andean water systems in Peru that experienced disruption during the colonial period and throughout the 20th Century.

Large green foliage pictured in airy room
Interior view of the Palm House. Ines Stuart-Davidson/© Board of Trustees, RBG Kew/WMF

Other projects funded by the Climate Heritage Solutions initiative will include identifying risks to historic gardens, with plans to create a global hub researching best practices for climate adaptation at valuable urban green spaces. WMF will also create a global network of professionals developing resources for coastal sites threatened by climate change. And over in Kew, London, WMF hopes to help reduce the carbon footprint of the Palm House and Waterlily House at London’s Royal Botanic Gardens by introducing more efficient heating systems, among other initiatives.

Aside from its climate-related projects, WMF’s priorities for the upcoming year include issues like crisis response. It will implement conservation efforts in Antakya, Turkey, an ancient city severely affected by the earthquakes of February 2023. And in Kyiv, Ukraine, the nonprofit will help restore the glass dome of Teacher’s House, the landmark that hosted the first parliament of the Ukrainian Republic in 1917.

WMF will additionally focus on inclusive heritage with projects such as the stabilization and conservation of Ould Fourah Bay College in Freetown, Sierra Leone, a historic Western-style university in sub-Saharan Africa that has been damaged by war and fire.

The organization also plans to continue working on projects it took on during a strategic partnership struck last year with Global Heritage Fund, another nonprofit focused on cultural heritage. These include conservation and tourism efforts in the pre-Hispanic city of Ciudad Perdida in Colombia and preserving and documenting the vernacular architecture of the Dali Village in China’s Guizhou Province.

The World Monuments Fund Announces a New $15M Climate Change Initiative