Leaders from nearly 70 UK museums, foundations and funding agencies met last week at the inaugural UK Museum COP meeting at Tate Modern, a summit organized by The National Museum Directors’ Council that convened representatives of British cultural institutions to discuss how their institutions can address issues related to climate change.
The meeting was meant to formalize actions by museums to address the effects of climate change and biodiversity loss, including pledges to reduce carbon emissions. In a joint statement, the group said: “We feel a responsibility to speak out about the current climate and biodiversity crisis and call upon UK politicians and businesses to accelerate action to mitigate this crisis before it is too late. UK museum leaders feel they have an ethical obligation to take action to alleviate that damage.“
Attendees of the UK Museum COP included funding agencies and museum trusts; the UK government’s Arts Council England, Art Fund and the Association of Independent Museums, Birmingham Museums Trust, DCMS, and the Gallery Climate Coalition are among the few to rally.
“Museums are institutions with a long-term view. Many have collections relating to the Earth’s five previous mass extinction events, and we are now in the midst of the sixth, the Anthropocene.”
The group of UK museum leaders jointly pledged to engage audiences with climate-related issues through collections and exhibitions, and implement sustainable practices such as decarbonization. The inaugural meeting follows a prolonged period during which European and UK museums were the targets of climate activist demonstrations, aiming to disrupt public exhibitions to highlight the risk of property destruction.
Meanwhile, museums leaders have faced recent pressures to divest from patrons with financial interests in fossil fuels. In June, the British Museum ended a nearly three-decade-long sponsorship deal with the oil giant BP. For years, advocacy groups criticized the company’s long-term backing of the museum’s major public exhibitions—most recently an exhibition on ancient Egyptian art—alleging the company’s affiliation with the UK museum amounted to greenwashing.
It remains unclear whether representatives from climate activist groups were present at the UK Museum COP.