Responding to the climate emergency - Museums Association

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Responding to the climate emergency

Alex Rock on the UK's first Museum Cop conference
Climate justice
Profile image for Alex Rock
Alex Rock

On 21 October the river Derwent reached unprecedented height levels as a result of Storm Babet – 70cm above the previous record level in 2019.

As a result, one of our museums – the Museum of Making, in its third year of operation following a £17m redevelopment – flooded. This left Derby Museums Trust counting the cost of lost income and with a broken thread in our narrative across our three sites.

It is within this context that the first UK Museums Cop took place 10 days later, on 31 October at Tate Modern, London.

The event, which was organised by the National Museum Directors' Council, was a timely intervention and an ambitious forum for collectivising a response – how should an under-resourced, under-funded, under-insulated (in every way) sector start to balance the competing and contrary demands of collections conservation and carbon reduction?

The UK Museum Cop was not a doff-the-cap exercise. Rather than platitudes – “the museums sector recognises the need for action” – preparations for the event involved a series of sub-groups interrogating key problematic issues around the sector’s response to the climate emergency.

These subgroups explored issues around planning adaptation (how do you balance the conservation of our built heritage against the need to adapt our buildings to accommodate green interventions?), workforce and skills (are we as heritage professionals tooled-up enough to deal with the climate emergency?), environmental standards (do we move towards more of a risk-based approach to object conservation rather than the rigid requirements of certain standards?), and the challenges of Scope 3 carbon emissions (how do we green up our supply chain? should we measure and declare visitor travel, or instead use our influence to lobby for better public transport infrastructure?).


In a particularly innovative panel, a series of representatives from key funders fed into the conversation, reflecting on the constraints of public funding we all feel and how funding requirements might change to more effectively resource museums to respond to the climate emergency.

All sub-groups fed back to the gathered attendees – not by presenting their solutions, but by engaging in active, thoughtful and honest discourse around the issues explored in each area.

Flooding at the Museum of Making in Derby

The Museum Cop was not the information-download of a traditional conference environment, but instead it was framed to encourage dialogue and for the sector to suggest resolutions around the key areas.

Some of the suggestions were intentionally provocative and controversial, involving a sectoral step-change in approach; others were direct calls to action and simple changes that can be made, such as a commitment to no domestic flights and a push to source retail and catering from within the local economy, thus cutting down supply miles.

It’s a significant first step, and the success of the approach needs to be measured in the resource afforded to the sector in order to allow us to prioritise the climate emergency in an era of ever-reducing public funding and inflationary pressures.

Alex Rock is the director of commercial and operations at Derby Museums

Comments (1)

  1. says:

    How can the National Museum Directors’ Council be a credible convenor for this meeting when both the British Museum and the Science Museum are continuing to making major sponsorship deals with the fossil fuel industry?

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