From the earliest days of their existence, humans have had close interaction with the natural environment surrounding them, in order to satisfy their survival and reproductive needs as well as their mental and cultural development. While humans have always exploited the Earth’s natural resources to survive, develop and progress, they have also safeguarded the environment and natural resources and human ingenuity and efforts in meeting their needs, while protecting the nature so as to preserve it for future generations. Through this they have, over the passage of thousands of years, gradually led to the development of traditional knowledge and skills for the exploitation of natural resources. Nowadays, these skills, practices, knowledge and know-how (along with their associated material culture) which have been transmitted from one generation to another, are collectively known as “intangible cultural heritage”. This has been shaped through the direct interaction between local communities living in different climates and varied ecosystems and will continue for as long as traditional ways of livelihood and interaction with the environment are allowed and supported to continue as before. As a consequence, the environment and intangible cultural heritage have a direct and reciprocal relationship and their survival is mutually dependent. This interdependence and the need for an integrated policy and legal regime to preserve and safeguard nature-based intangible heritage while preserving the environment, and vice versa, is nowadays accepted by the international law system.
Iran is a country of high biological diversity located in its many, diverse environmental zones and habitats and, at the same time, enjoys an extremely rich cultural heritage – both tangible and intangible – that has been developed by the various peoples inhabiting the Iranian plateau over millennia as a response to their physical environment. Hence, in addition to the obvious intrinsic value of this heritage as the inheritance of the Iranian people and as a marker of identity for diverse cultural groups in the country, including tribal peoples and pastoralists, also diverse peoples living in various areas and provinces of the country, it is also the basis for living in the often challenging environmental conditions of Iran and continues to provide a foundation of knowledge and know-how for the present and future generations in Iran to live in and enjoy the natural resources of Iran’s environment in a sustainable manner.
In this country, as in many if not the majority of countries, the policy- and law-making frameworks for protecting cultural heritage, on the one hand, and the environment, on the other, have been established separately and little has been done to develop integrated policies and laws to safeguard intangible cultural heritage and protect the environment in the areas they overlap. It is therefore necessary both in theory and practice to revise and correct the relevant policies, laws and regulations. This paper has as one of its main goals to address some challenges and shortcomings in Iran's policy and legal frameworks for protecting cultural heritage and the environment, including a lack of coordination between these two scopes. At the same time, it aims to address some limited opportunities that exist in certain policies, laws and regulations, as well as in administrative plans and measures, along with some proposals from the writer that may help to develop an integrated protection framework for cultural heritage, the environment and sustainable development.