In a landmark move, national and regional museums across the United Kingdom have pledged to take collective action to address the pressing issue of climate change. This commitment, forged at the first UK Museum Cop held at Tate Modern in London, represents a unified front within the cultural sector, recognizing the urgency and responsibility museums bear in tackling this global challenge.
The Museum Cop gathered representatives from museums, organizations, and funders, collectively representing Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Brighton, Leeds, Derby, Liverpool, York, Sheffield, and London. Additionally, national bodies from England, Wales, and Scotland participated, demonstrating the breadth and depth of commitment across the UK.
This collective action plan outlines a multi-pronged approach to environmental sustainability within museums. Museums will harness their collections, programs, and exhibitions to engage audiences with the climate crisis, inspiring positive action. Sustainable collection management practices will be adopted, and decarbonization plans will be developed and implemented. Furthermore, museums will strive to increase biodiversity in their green spaces, fostering a holistic approach to environmental stewardship.
Maria Balshaw, chair of the National Museum Directors’ Council and director of Tate, emphasized the unique perspective museums possess, stating, “Museums and galleries have a unique perspective as institutions that have to take a long-term view with their mission to preserve collections and stories for the long future.”
Nick Merriman, chief executive of the Horniman Museum and Gardens and chair of the Cop, underscored the importance of museums’ role in the climate crisis discourse, stating, “Museums have a special place in the debate about the climate and biodiversity crisis because they can take a long-term view, beyond the short-term cycles of politics and economics.”
The conference also called upon UK politicians and businesses to accelerate their efforts in combating climate change, recognizing the situation’s urgency. They recommended urgent changes to planning laws and increased investment to ensure the sustainability of heritage buildings. Additionally, they advocated for adopting a “greener option first” principle in all areas of museum practice, emphasizing the need to integrate sustainability into museum operations.
Environmental sustainability should be embedded in training and apprenticeships within the sector, the conference concluded, ensuring that future generations of museum professionals possess the knowledge and skills to uphold environmentally responsible practices.
This united stance by UK museums represents a significant step forward in addressing the climate crisis. By leveraging their collections, engaging audiences, and adopting sustainable practices, museums can play a pivotal role in shaping a more environmentally conscious future.