On a landmark day, the 31st of October, 2023, representatives from UK museums, industry associations, and funding bodies congregated at Tate Modern for a groundbreaking event—the first ever UK Museum COP. Orchestrated by the National Museum Directors Council (NMDC), this summit marked a pivotal moment in the cultural sector’s response to the climate and biodiversity crises.

The gathering culminated in a historic first: a joint commitment by museum leaders to undertake collective action against climate change. Acknowledging the severe existential threat posed by global warming and biodiversity loss, they vowed to leverage their unique position and resources to advocate for and implement sustainable practices within their institutions and beyond.

Key commitments included utilizing collections, programs, and exhibitions to engage and inspire the public on climate action, adopting more sustainable collections management practices, and formulating decarbonization plans. Moreover, they aimed to enhance biodiversity within museum spaces and adapt to the challenges posed by extreme weather conditions​​​​.

This collective action underscores the sector’s recognition of its ethical obligation to address the damage being inflicted on our planet. Museums, with their long-term perspective and custodianship of collections that span the history of Earth’s mass extinctions, are uniquely positioned to lead by example in the fight against the ongoing Anthropocene extinction.

The UK Museum COP also initiated several sub-groups tasked with addressing critical sustainability challenges, ranging from personnel and skills to heritage buildings and Scope 3 emissions. This collaborative effort aims to remove barriers to sustainability within the museum sector and beyond.

Nick Merriman, CEO of the Horniman Museum and Gardens and COP Chair, emphasized the significance of the sector’s unified stance on climate action. Similarly, Maria Balshaw, Director of Tate and NMDC Chair, highlighted the conference’s role in setting a precedent for museums and galleries to significantly reduce their environmental impact and inspire positive change among the public.

As part of this initiative, the NMDC published a report titled “Green Museums: Tackling the Climate Crisis,” showcasing various ways museums are responding to the climate emergency. This includes case studies from NMDC member museums across research, public engagement, and greening estates and operations​​.

The first UK Museum COP represents a crucial step forward in the cultural sector’s commitment to sustainability. By coming together to address the climate crisis, UK museums are not only setting an example for others to follow but also ensuring that they play a vital role in securing a sustainable future for all.

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