Institute of Archaeology


Reimagining Museums for Climate Action museums toolkit launched at COP26

8 November 2021

The Reimagining Museums for Climate Action project, co-led by Rodney Harrison (Professor of Heritage Studies, UCL Institute of Archaeology), is launching an open access museums toolkit at COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference Green Zone, this week.

COP26 Venue, Glasgow (Image courtesy of Rodney Harrison)

Mobilising Museums for Climate Action: Tools, frameworks and opportunities to accelerate climate action in and with museums is a practical toolkit of ideas, authored by Henry McGhie of Curating Tomorrow. The book aims to resource and inspire radical change in museums to address the climate emergency. It is available to download as a free e-book on the Reimagining Museums for Climate Action website.

The museums toolkit accompanies an exhibition which is part of the official Green Zone at COP26. Co-curated by Rodney, Colin Sterling (University of Amsterdam) and Henry McGhie, in consultation with the Glasgow Science Centre, Reimagining Museums for Climate Action began life as a design and ideas competition, launched on 18 May for International Museum Day 2020. Responding to the two main pillars of climate action – mitigation and adaptation – the competition asked how museums could help society make the deep, transformative changes needed to achieve a net-zero or zero-carbon world, as well as addressing their own large carbon footprints.

The official logo of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), 2021 (Wikimedia Commons: Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.)

Over 250 submissions were received from 48 countries, with proposals from architects, designers, activists, artists, student groups, academics, Indigenous communities and those already working in museums globally.

Eight teams were invited to develop their ideas for the exhibition at Glasgow Science Centre, which first opened in June 2021 and re-opened on 31 October as part of the official COP26 Green Zone, which will be open to the public and COP26 delegates on a ticketed basis in Glasgow over the two weeks of the UN Climate Change Conference.

The exhibition presents a range of proposals for how museums could support meaningful climate action. It features a range of new ideas about the things museums collect, the stories they tell, the materials they are built of and the ways they support and work with communities. Some of these ideas are speculative, even fantastical, while others are already being implemented. The global scope of the proposals – from Brazil, Indonesia, Singapore, the United States and the UK – shows that museums have an important role to play in addressing climate change at an international level, tailored to their local context.

Reimagining Museums for Climate Action Toolkit being launched at COP26 (Image: Rodney Harrison)

Rodney is currently representing UCL at COP26. He will contribute to a number of events both inside and outside of COP26 in Glasgow, including co-organising the panel “Powering climate action through heritage policies, organisations, research and public programmes” which will take place in the COP26 EU Pavilion at 4pm GMT on 11 November.

Virtual access to the exhibition is available via the project’s website and as part of the COP26 Digital Green Zone, hosted by Google Arts and Culture. Virtual access to events in the EU Pavilion is available by signing up to the COP26 EU Side Events Online Portal.

In addition to the exhibition, book, toolkit and associated events, the project will host a virtual plenary panel from COP26 for the Museums Association Conference on 9 November.

Reimagining Museums for Climate Action is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) as part of Rodney Harrison's Heritage Priority Area Leadership Fellowship (Grant No. AH/P009719/1) and Colin Sterling's UKRI/AHRC Innovation Fellowship (Grant No. AH/S00436X/1). The project aims to support radical climate action in and with museums before, during and after COP26.

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