Editorial | Climate action needed urgently - Museums Association

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Editorial | Climate action needed urgently

The sector needs to start thinking differently, says Simon Stephens
Climate crisis

Tipping points have been talked about a lot in relation to the climate crisis, but it really does feel like the planet is reaching the point where, unless action is taken now, we will reach a point of no return.

This urgency was reflected in the UK’s first Museum Cop meeting, which took place at Tate Modern on 31 October last year.

The event brought together a range of representatives from UK museums and galleries, sector bodies and funders. The meeting secured consensus on collective action to decarbonise the sector and mitigate the impacts of the climate and biodiversity crises.

But to make these commitments meaningful, the sector will need to overcome a range of challenging issues. And some of these will need radical solutions to tackle them.

A particularly tricky problem is related to the fact that many museums are housed in historic buildings that are a long way from being carbon efficient.

The UK Museum Cop recognised that a step-change in practice is needed and called for a change in legislation and guidance to give museums the freedom to address this issue. As ever, more funding is also needed.

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But do we also need a change of mindset that will allow us to admit that some historic buildings will never be fit for purpose and instead find alternative places to house our museums? Do we need the courage just to let some buildings go? 

The UK Museum Cop said we need to understand all the costs of making buildings carbon efficient, which will be vital if sensible decisions are to be made.

There are other issues where the sector will need to start thinking differently. What can museums do about the carbon impact of visitors, particularly how they get to and from venues?

Museums are already looking at how objects are transported between locations, but do we need to think more carefully about whether they should be moved at all?

Should all museums agree on a ban on taking sponsorship money from companies that are not fully committed to tackling the climate crisis?

It is clear that small incremental changes will no longer cut it. All museums, whatever their size and type, need to take urgent action to change their practices. 

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