How have museums been contributing to the Paris Agreement?

The original Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement both include an article (6 and 12 respectively) that is clearly related to museums. This article covers education, training, public awareness, public access to information, public participation and international co-operation. These six elements are closely related to human rights, the rights to education, the right of everyone to participate in cultural life, and the freedom of expression and to information. This package of activity is referred to informally as Action for Climate Empowerment, or ACE.

A programme of activity to support ACE ran from 2012-20, called the Doha Work Programme. Last year, the UN put out a call for submissions on best practices and lessons learnt regarding this programme, and to make suggestions for the next. I ran a survey to gather views from museums and museum workers on how they have been working with the six elements of ACE (whether they related them to ACE or not). The submissions went in in February, and a synthesis has been put together. This blog post and a couple of others include some of the information from the submissions.

The 81 survey respondents survey have been involved in programmes relating to the six elements of ACE that have reached tens of millions of people during 2016–19, and they represent a tiny proportion of the global museum and museum-related sector. Responses do not necessarily reflect the global spread of climate related activity in museums.


There are an estimated 55,000 museums worldwide (estimates range to 80,000). They reach hundreds of millions of people each year, supporting formal, informal and non-formal education, and in many cases co-operating internationally, and so covering all six areas of the UNFCCC Article 6 and the Doha Work Programme (DWP).

In summary:

• Museums represent an existing global infrastructure that could contribute to significant levels of activity supporting climate empowerment.

• As climate change will impact everywhere and all aspects of life, all museums are relevant to climate change, and climate change is relevant to all museums.

• Museums are prime sites to build concern and empathy for people, cultures, places and wildlife beyond where people live themselves, and to support them to make and take personal and local actions for a sustainable future.

• Museums can help bring together the public, policy workers, researchers and others, to shape and implement locally relevant and effective strategies and plans for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

• The key importance of museums (and a range of other subnational actors) in supporting Article 6 of the UNFCCC was recognized by their specific inclusion in the Paris Agreement Work Programme/Katowice Package at COP24.

1. Summary of activity by museums and museum networks related to the Doha Work Programme and Action for Climate Empowerment 2016–19

1a. What has worked:
Education and awareness:
Increasing numbers of museums are running exhibitions or events that feature climate change. Public participation and access to information: Some museums and museum workers are working in networks with policy makers, community groups and other partners to advance local climate action. Training: Increasingly, museum networks and societies are supporting their members through conferences, workshops and training to support them to implement climate action in their own work. International co-operation: Increasingly, museums and museum networks (at institutional, national and international levels) are making commitments to advance and accelerate climate action. The formal inclusion and recognition of museums, and others, in the Paris Agreement Workplan has served to encourage and empower many in the museum sector that this policy agenda is something that they can play a part in. Further, concrete developments to help empower subnational actors are likely to accelerate and enhance activity.

1b. What has not worked:
There is almost no awareness or understanding of the Doha Work Programme (DWP) across museums or museum networks. National focal points for ACE have not made an impact on museums. Activity that supports the DWP has been developed in museums without a connection to that programme, meaning that the impact is not communicated or recognized as part of the DWP or featuring in national reporting on climate action, and there is no co-ordinated mechanism for large-scale sharing, or including action by subnational actors in national reporting. Museums’ climate change activity is, in many cases, unco-ordinated and not reported consistently, and in many cases could be more effective. While significant progress has been made, the potential for capacity-building and to build momentum has yet to be fully realized.

2. Activities and results by museums and museum networks related to the Doha Work Programme and Action for Climate Empowerment 2016–19 While activities are presented here in relation to the six elements of the DWP/ACE, in practice, many museum activities covered multiple elements of DWP/ACE. This is a strength of museums, in that activities reach multiple stakeholder groups and are a relatively cost-effective way of reaching different groups, rather than having six separate programmes. This approach also builds potential for lifelong learning and interaction between different user groups in a highly flexible manner. Institutions such as museums in fact offer significant potential for UNFCCC and other policy agendas. To give some examples, in the USA, the Blue Planet Action Center at the New England Aquarium has been visited by approximately 5 million people during 2016-19. The ‘Climate Wall’, launched in 2018, is available to all visitors to the American Museum of Natural History, which has c.5 million visitors a year. The Anchorage Museum’s SEED (Solutions for Energy and Equity Through Design) lab explores sustainable solutions through design. In Europe, in Norway, the Climate For Change exhibition explores climate change through energy use. The Climate House in Oslo staged an outdoor photographic exhibition linked to the schools’ climate strikes. In Germany, The Klimahaus in Bremerhaven takes visitors on a journey round the world to explore climate change impacts. The Danish Museum of energy put on a travelling exhibition to eight towns reaching hundreds of thousands of people. Aboa Vetus (Finland) staged a school project and exhibition, ‘The Weather and I’. The Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition reached c.1.5 million people. In Brazil, The Museum of Tomorrow in Rio de Janeiro had c.4 million visitors to its main exhibition about future scenarios and c.200,000 visitors to an exhibition on climate refugees. In Hong Kong the Jockey Climate Museum ‘Climate Change and Me’ exhibit in 2019 reached c.75,000 people. The Australian Museum in Sydney and the National Museum of Australia in Canberra are running programmes to document the recent Australian bushfires, gathering examples of challenges and possible solutions to addressing climate change.

2a. Education

Formal education: Most (65%) respondents to the online survey had supported educational programmes for schools or colleges on climate change, with each respondent typically reaching hundreds (33% of respondents to the question) or thousands (31%) of learners during 2016-19. Informal education and lifelong learning: More (85%) survey respondents had supported informal or non-formal educational activities relating to climate change, typically reaching hundreds (42%) or more (48%) people; 15% of respondents to the question had reached hundreds of thousands of people during 2016-19. 18% of respondents had run programmes aimed at women, typically reaching hundreds (45%) of people. Significantly more respondents, 73%, had run programmes aimed at youth, typically reaching hundreds (35%) or more (40%) people during 2016-19.

2b. Training:

Museum conferences and workshops increasingly feature sessions on climate change. In the US, the National Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation programme has been particularly successful at supporting educators to draw on critically informed educational methods (see below under best practices), and has worked with many museums. Museums have used COP events to catalyse training among local museum workers. For example at the time of COP 25, the National Museum of Decorative Arts in Madrid organised a workshop for Spanish museum workers to help empower them to address climate change through their work.
36% of respondents to the online survey had been involved in schemes for the exchange or secondment of staff. These typically reached small numbers of staff (1-9, 41%), with a small number of respondents (9%) reaching thousands of staff. More respondents (58%) had developed training programmes for museum workers focussed on climate change, for a very wide range of staff roles, and for a range of institutional, sector, national and international groups of workers. These activities typically reached hundreds of staff; 8% of respondents reached thousands of staff, and 4% of respondents had reached tens of thousands of staff. Training was provided via workshops (80%), peer-to-peer training (56%), conferences (46%), writing articles and books (44%), mentoring (36%) and online training (24%).

2c. Public awareness

81% of respondents to the online survey had encouraged personal action in addressing climate change. 76% had fostered behaviour changes to address climate change, and 67% had supported climate-friendly policies to the public. Public awareness was raised using a range of means including exhibitions (66%), public events (69%), social media (65%), outreach events (58%), and other means. Exhibitions including climate change typically reached thousands (22%), tens of thousands (29%), hundreds of thousands (24%) or millions (13%) of people during 2016-19. Social media typically reached thousands (32%), tens of thousands (33%) or more people, with one respondent alone reaching tens of millions of people during 2016-19. Public events on climate change typically reached hundreds (26%), thousands (40%) or tens of thousands (19%) of people during 2016-19. Outreach events reached smaller numbers of people, typically hundreds (35%) or thousands (41%) of people during 2016-19.

2d. Public access to information

A large proportion of respondents to the online survey had provided information on initiatives that address climate change (72%), or information on the results of actions addressing climate change (50%). Less (42%) had provided information on climate change policies. Even less (25%) sold products that raise awareness of climate change and/or personal climate action.

2e. Public participation

To provide some examples, the Nordic Museum in Stockholm held a public panel discussion with Nordic foreign ministers in October 2019, to discuss Nordic co-operation in the Arctic in the face of climate change and its impacts on local communities there. This panel discussion coincided with an exhibition, ‘The Arctic – While the Ice is Melting’. The Museums for Future initiative supports staff and people involved in the Fridays for Future initiative and operates mainly in European countries; it reached 12,000 people in November 2019. The American Museum of Natural History has convened gatherings of Indigenous and local community stakeholders, and partnered with them at international meetings. Museums have used the event of COP to catalyse local action in the museum sector and to provide opportunities to raise awareness of COP, UNFCCC and their aims. For example, at COP25, the Prado Museum partnered with WWF to highlight the impacts of climate change.

62% of respondents to the online survey had promoted partnerships between different stakeholders to promote climate change action and policy. 46% of respondents had facilitated debate between different stakeholders to promote climate change action and policy. 38% had provided opportunities for the public to meet with/and or work with decision-makers. 34% had provided opportunities for people to give feedback on climate change policies and related activity to local or international policy workers, and 30% had run initiatives that sought civil society perspectives that had been made available to policy makers. A wide variety of methods were used, including exhibitions (41%), public events including academics working with climate change research and policy (41%), public events including policy workers/makers (36%), public events (40%), outreach events (39%), social media (38%).

2f. International co-operation

The International Council of Museums (ICOM), the international body that oversees global museums, adopted a resolution in 2019 “On sustainability and the implementation of Agenda 2030, Transforming our World”, recommending that all members of ICOM accelerate their support for sustainability and the Paris Agreement, using the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework. Prior to this, in 2017, the global networks of science museums and science centres adopted a ‘Tokyo Protocol’, on the contribution those institutions make to the SDGs.6 The Climate Heritage Network, formed in 2018, aims to support those working in the wider heritage sector to support the Paris Agreement. Museums have been represented at UN Climate Change conferences since 2017, including at ACE Dialogues and a workshop to accelerate ACE in 2018. Presentations on museums as capacity builders and as 55,000 ways to address climate change featured at COP25. Respondents to the online survey had taken part in a wide range of initiatives linked to international co-operation, with 52% attending conferences that included international perspectives on climate change, 47% speaking at conferences, 39% collaborating with international museum workers and 31% collaborating wither other relevant sectors internationally.

Published by Henry McGhie

I have set up Curating Tomorrow as a new business. I know that lots of people, organisations and networks care about the communities they are based in, broader social issues and the natural environment. Curating Tomorrow takes museum-based skills of curating, and applies them to the wider world. It is about helping people and organisations move farther, faster, together to build a better world.

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1 Comment

  1. A terrific recap that illustrates just how much has been happening and CAN happen.All readers can see that there are ways to participate through their museum, and make contributions to advancing the work of the UNFCCC for all. Cooperation is key – plus, it makes it all easier.

    Liked by 2 people

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