In an unparalleled move, leaders from 68 UK museums, sector bodies, and funders have come together for the first UK Museum COP summit. It was organised by the National Museum Directors’ Council and hosted at Tate Modern.
The consensus reached at the event resulted in the issuance of the sector’s inaugural collective commitment to combating climate change and its associated biodiversity crises. Museum leaders agreed in a joint statement to acknowledge their ethical responsibility to address the ongoing climate emergency. Recognising the world’s precarious state, they emphasised the situation’s urgency, citing alarming trends such as unprecedented global temperatures and an alarming rate of species extinctions. Framed within the context of the Anthropocene – the current geological era marked by human activity – museums and institutions with a profound understanding of the Earth’s history voiced their commitment to taking meaningful action.
The leaders outlined a series of initiatives aimed at engaging the public, fostering sustainable practices, and mitigating climate impacts. These initiatives include leveraging museum collections, programs, and exhibitions to raise awareness about the climate crisis, implementing sustainable collections management, developing decarbonisation plans, adapting to extreme weather, and enhancing biodiversity in green spaces.
Crucially, museum leaders also called for collaborative efforts from businesses, funders, and governments to facilitate the decarbonisation process. Their appeal stressed the necessity of continued support and commitment to achieving net-zero carbon emissions and safeguarding the natural environment.
This united front emerged after extensive sub-group deliberations, each addressing museums’ challenges. Key recommendations were proposed, encompassing urgent changes to planning legislation, the development of centralised sustainability resources, integration sustainability into education and training programs and adopting a ‘greener option first’ principle in all museum operations.
Prominent museums and galleries, including Tate, have severed ties with fossil fuel companies, succumbing to mounting pressure from environmental activists. Notably, the British Museum, although absent from the recent Museum Cop event, made headlines this year by terminating its 27-year-long sponsorship agreement with BP. Citing their roles as custodians of history and witnesses to the Earth’s previous mass extinctions, museum leaders argue that they are duty-bound to counter the ongoing Anthropocene crisis. Maria Balshaw, Chair of the National Museum Directors’ Council and Tate’s Director emphasized museums’ unique position in safeguarding our cultural heritage and unveiled an ambitious plan to minimize their environmental impact while inspiring positive change for the public.”
Nick Merriman, Chief Executive of Horniman Museum and Gardens and COP Chair, highlighted the unique role museums play in the climate debate. Their ability to take a long-term perspective, independent of political and economic cycles, positions museums as influential advocates for climate action. Maria Balshaw, Director of Tate and Chair of NMDC, emphasised the significance of this collaborative effort. Museums, with their dedication to preserving collections for the future, have a distinctive perspective that can inspire positive change, not only within the museum community but also among the wider public.
Representatives from the following organisations attended the event: Arts Council England, Art Fund, Association of Independent Museums, Beamish: The Living Museum of the North, Birmingham Museums Trust, Bizot Group, Black Country Living Museum, Bowes Museum, Brighton and Hove Museums, Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery, British Film Institute, British Library, Buro Happold, Department for Culture Media and Sport, Derby Museums Trust, Design Museum, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Fidelity UK Foundation, Gallery Climate Coalition, Garfield Weston Foundation, Hampshire Cultural Trust, Historic Buildings and Places, Historic England, Horniman Museum and Gardens, ICOM UK, Imperial War Museums, Institute of Conservation, John Ellerman Foundation, Julie’s Bicycle, Leeds Museums and Galleries, Llywodraeth Cymru/Welsh Government, Manchester Museum, Museum Development North-West, Museum of the Home, Museums Association, Museums Galleries Scotland, National Army Museum, National Galleries Scotland, National Lottery Heritage Fund, National Museum Directors’ Council, National Museums Liverpool, National Museums NI, National Museums Scotland, National Museums Wales/Amgueddfa Cymru, National Portrait Gallery, National Trust Scotland, Natural History Museum, Renew Culture, Royal Air Force Museum, Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Royal Armouries, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Royal Museums Greenwich, Science Museum Group, Sheffield Museums, Tate, The Ashmolean Museum, The National Archives, The National Gallery, Touring Exhibitions Group, Tullie, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, UK Registrars Group, University of Cambridge Museums, University of Leicester, V&A, Wallace Collection, Wolfson Foundation and York Museums Trust.
Photo: © Artlyst 2023