Cultural institutions and climate crisis

What role can and should cultural institutions play in the climate crisis? There is a valuable new benchmark, the Bremerhaven Declaration on the role of museums in the face of climate change. Here is an easy and useful thing for you to do: write to a cultural institution that you belong to or support, and ask them to commit to this declaration:

It says:

Bremerhaven Declaration on the Role of Museums in Addressing the Climate Crisis

Society stands at a fork in the road, with one fork headed to a future of fear, want and inequality, in a climate-compromised world. The other fork leads to a future where people – as individuals, communities and together –thrive in a sustainable environment, with a stable climate. We must help society to create and follow the latterpath. The map of that path exists in the form of the Paris Agreement, but the path itself does not yet exist: we must create it together, and with greater speed and greater ambition, to minimize the scale and impacts ofclimate change.

Museums, science centres and exhibition centres (referred to as ‘museums’ hereafter) – large, small,wherever they are, and of whatever subject matter – can all play a distinctive role in achieving the aims ofthe Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement through the six elements of Actionfor Climate Empowerment: education, training, public awareness, public participation, public access to information and international co-operation, as well as by reducing their own carbon footprints.

We welcome the formal recognition of the key role that museums play in achieving the goals of the FrameworkConvention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement, by the members of the United Nations at COP24(2018) and COP25 (2019).

We also acknowledge that the members of the world’s science museum and science centre networks, andof the International Council of Museums, have already resolved to take up the Sustainable Development Goals, as a blueprint to address climate change and other sustainability issues.

We recognize the widespread interest in and concern about climate change across society. We hear theincreasing calls for support and empowerment from communities everywhere, to enable people to knowwhat they can do, have the motivation to act, and the skills and opportunities to act to address climate change,in their own lives and with others. We acknowledge that, in 2019, museum professionals working with climatechange have informed the United Nations of ten key lessons learnt by museums during 2016-19:

  • The importance of acting now: there is no time to waste.
  • The importance of confident and competent staff.
  • The great importance of reliable, up-to-date information and science, including basicinformation on climate change.

  • The great importance of a focus on solutions, not problems.
  • The importance of making climate change and climate action personal and relevant, aswell as understanding the big picture.
  • The importance of acknowledging people’s emotions and feelings.
  • The importance of community, and empowering people to participate fully in society.
  • The importance of engaging everyone.
  • The importance of co-ordination and collaboration between museums and partners.
  • The need for support from governments, government agencies and funders.

Having explored these points in Klimahaus® Bremerhaven 8° Ost at the international symposium ‘How To...?From Climate Knowledge To Climate Action’ we wish to make the following recommendations to museumseverywhere.

The Sustainable Development Goals are an unprecedented opportunity, for institutions, communitiesand other stakeholders to identify the challenges most relevant to their context and that draw mosteffectively on their strengths to meet these challenges.

Science, art and the humanities are all crucial for understanding and addressing climate change. Scientists, curators, designers, artists, authors, philosophers, historians, geographers, communities andpeople as individuals, all have a role to play in this endeavour. Their voices must be heard, and they should beempowered to use them.

Climate change requires radical creativity and radical collaboration, everywhere.

Museums are stronger and more effective when they make a collective impact, working with one anotherand other sectors, and empowering communities and young people. Existing movements such as Fridays forFuture, and annual dates such as Earth Day or International Museum Day, are ready-made opportunities that can help museums to collaborate with one another, and with their communities, in a joint effort to amplifyvoices and climate action.

Museums only exist within the context of their communities. Forming strong connections with individuals, groups and all of society, and listening to and addressing people’s concerns, is crucial. Museums andcommunities can be equal partners in imagining and working towards shared goals, ambitions and visions,and help share and create rich, powerful stories. They should also lead by example, and embrace climateaction across their institutions.

Effective climate education has to provide all of the necessary knowledge, motivation and practical skills.Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) offers such an approach,

embracing the importance of a positive relationship as part of the natural world; respect for others, diversity anddifference; human rights; and citizenship. ESD recognises that learning is lifelong, and happens in manylocations, including museums. Making ESD a core approach in museums can help museums becomeeffective resources for lifelong learning, and to connect with people’s heads, hearts and hands, to addressclimate change in their own lives.

Museums can help people to imagine a better future, focussing on creative, imaginative, collaborative andhopeful – rather than fearful – experiences, to help address climate change. Climate education andempowerment can be made to be enoyable and fulfilling, turning concerns into meaningful, everyday action.

We need to create and support sustained dialogue, among museums, with policy workers, with othersectors, with communities and people as individuals . This involves careful listening, to understand andaddress the interests, concerns, needs and suggestions of people, and a commitment to climate actionevery day, everywhere. We need to share our experiences and ideas with one another, and develop ourclimate responses together.

The need for support from governments, government agencies and funders

Society must expect us to provide and support climate change education, awareness, participation, access toinformation and co-operation as a priority. While we acknowledge that museums can already offer a greatdeal to climate education and action, we also recognize that they must be empowered to play these roles insociety. Museums need support and guidance from policy makers, local and national governments, through effective climate change education policies, plans, financial and other resources. We would welcome mechanisms that can help us share and tell our collective story. We stand ready to play our part,and we ask our funders, stakeholders and potential partners to play theirs to help us to do so, as we commitourselves to addressing the defining challenge of our times, together.

The international symposium ‘How To...? From Climate Knowledge To Climate Action’ was held atKlimahaus® Bremerhaven 8° Ost on 24th and 25th September 2020.

Further reading and links:

Tokyo Protocol

ICOM Resolution on Sustainability and Agenda 2030, Transforming Our World

UNFCCC (2018). Decision 17/CMA.1, Report of COP24

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