Tate Modern

Museum leaders meet for first ‘UK Museum COP’ with joint climate change commitments

Image: Tate Modern

More than 60 UK museums, sector bodies, and funders met to set out commitments and recommendations for a greener sector

Representatives from 68 UK museums, sector bodies, and funders have met for the first UK Museum COP meeting, organised by the The National Museum Directors’ Council and hosted at Tate Modern.

The meeting took place to solidify the collective action museums can take to reduce carbon emissions within the sector and address the consequences of climate change and biodiversity loss.

In a first-ever joint commitment for collective action, the group states: “As leaders of the UK museums, 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.

The statement highlights the increasing urgency of climate action and the “existential threat to the world we have become accustomed to.

“UK museum leaders feel they have an ethical obligation to take action to alleviate that damage.“

“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.”

Among attendees to the meeting were museum trusts and parent organisations, sector organisations, and funders including Arts Council England, Art Fund and the Association of Independent Museums, Birmingham Museums Trust, DCMS, the Gallery Climate Coalition, The Garfield Weston Foundation, Historic England, ICOM UK, and Julie’s Bicycle.

Their collective commitments include:

  • Use relevant collections, programmes and exhibitions to engage audiences with the climate crisis and inspire them to take positive action
  • Introduce more sustainable collections management,Develop and implement decarbonisation plans which include relaxing carbon-hungry environmental parameters
  • Undertake measures to mitigate the impacts of extreme weather and adapt to new challenges
  • Increase biodiversity in our green spaces.

The meeting also resulted in recommendations, including:

  • Urgent changes to planning legislation and guidance, with increased investment to ensure heritage buildings’ sustainability.
  • The development of a central resource providing guidance on sustainability for different types of museums.
  • Incorporating sustainability into Learning and Development programs and recruitment, establishing a mentoring scheme, and launching a cross-organisational training program in 2024.
  • Integrating environmental sustainability into Museums and Heritage studies and apprenticeships.
  • Continued support for Carbon Literacy Training.
  • Adopting a ‘greener option first’ principle in all areas of museum practice.

Nick Merriman, Chief Executive of the Horniman Museum and Gardens and COP Chair, said: “Museums offer a unique perspective on the climate and biodiversity crisis, as they operate with a long-term vision. The unity of the entire museum sector in stressing the urgency for action is of paramount importance. We will collaborate to implement the agreed-upon actions.”

Maria Balshaw, Director of Tate and Chair of NMDC, added:”The NMDC was pleased to host the inaugural UK Museum COP at Tate Modern, where vital actions were agreed upon to reduce museums’ environmental impact and inspire positive action.”