The ACHP promotes sustainable and resilient communities where historic properties are used as assets for promoting energy efficiency and community livability, and are prepared for climate impacts.
ACHP Policy Statement on Climate Change and Historic Preservation
America’s historic properties–important places that help to define and connect people to their communities–are experiencing escalating climate impacts that are increasingly leading to their damage and destruction. On June 16, 2023, the ACHP adopted a Policy Statement on Climate Change and Historic Preservation to define more clearly connections between climate change and historic properties, to articulate policy principles the ACHP will integrate into the Section 106 process, and to guide public-serving institutions on how they may acknowledge, plan for, mitigate, and adapt to climate change impacts on historic properties. (The policy statement was published in the Federal Register in August 2023.)
While it addresses federal agency challenges and opportunities, the policy statement also speaks broadly to nonfederal parties. The document defines the scope of climate impacts and puts forward a series of recommended policy principles for addressing the issues. Effects to sacred sites and other properties significant to Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations (NHOs) are highlighted, as are the disproportionate impacts of climate change on historic places in underserved communities.
Comments received during the public comment period on the policy statement led to important edits that improved the document. In some cases, the suggestions provided were too specific for inclusion in a broad policy document but were interesting implementation ideas that could be pursued by the ACHP or others in the preservation community.
Introduction to Climate Change and Historic Preservation
Below under "Related Resources" you will find a collection of links to detailed information on the importance of historic properties to the national conversation on sustainability and climate resilience. Gateway sites on these topics include:
- Climate and Culture (National Trust for Historic Preservation)
- Sustainability (National Park Service)
- Sustainable Historic Preservation (Whole Building Design Guide)
Communities throughout the country are threatened by increasing climate impacts, such as storm damage, flooding, coastal erosion, drought and associated wildfires, melting permafrost, and changing temperature patterns. Climate-related destruction undermines sense of place and community identity, in part through damage to historic properties. This includes threats to sacred sites, traditional cultural landscapes, and other sites of religious and cultural importance to Indian Tribes and Native Hawaiians. People are seeking ways to adapt and be more resilient to climate impacts, including impacts to historic properties. Good introductions to this topic include:
- Leading the Change Together: Climate Resilience (National Trust for Historic Preservation)
- National Landmarks At Risk: How Rising Seas, Floods, and Wildfires Are Threatening the United States' Most Cherished Historic Sites (Union of Concerned Scientists)
When it comes to historic buildings, in most cases the “greenest” building is the one already built. Preserving historic buildings almost always offers environmental and energy savings over demolition and new construction. Reusing existing buildings also avoids the embodied carbon emissions inherent in new construction, thus helping to combat climate change. Reinvestment in historic districts and communities also promotes reuse of existing infrastructure and supports areas that generally are walkable and have good transit access options. The result? Energy savings and enhanced community livability.
Early research into the energy savings of historic preservation includes two ACHP reports from 1979: Preservation and Energy Conservation and Assessing the Energy Conservation Benefits of Historic Preservation: Methods and Examples. More recent cost-benefit analyses include:
- The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse (National Trust for Historic Preservation)
- Demonstrating the Environmental & Economic Cost-Benefits of Reusing DoD’s Pre-World War II Buildings (Department of Defense) and the report’s Appendices