As we face up to the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, it can be difficult to keep our focus to other challenges. But, while coronavirus will undoubtedly define this year and next, climate change remains the defining issue for the 21st century and demands our urgent attention.
Indeed the pandemic is a grim reminder of the importance of understanding the world around us and our impact on it.
Scientists have shown how the same changes that are helping to drive up global temperatures – such as the destruction of natural vegetation to make way for agricultural crops – are contributing to the conditions that make further pandemics likely. The disruption of animal communities also increases opportunities for contact between people and wild species that carry diseases known to infect humans.
Today we are publishing the latest edition of the Science Museum Group’s new Sustainability Policy, encapsulating our response to the science of climate change that requires radical decarbonisation across all sectors to keep global temperature rises below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.
Our Group of five museums is uniquely placed to inspire the millions who visit our sites or engage with us digitally to explore the impact of our past and the opportunities for our future.
Over the next year and long beyond, our public programme on climate change and sustainability will focus on how science and engineering has led in the past and is driving current technological and nature based solutions to tackle challenges around energy and food transitions and greenhouse gas removals.
But our Sustainability Policy is as much about driving change in our own behaviours as it is about our ambition to lead public engagement on the science of climate change.
We have begun a vital journey to reduce carbon emissions from our operations, procurement and supply chain, and to use our resources more efficiently, while still investing in and developing our estate in a sustainable way.
We have cut carbon emissions from our operations by 69% since 2011/12 despite a 24% increase in floor area of our estate but we have so much more to do.
Over the next 12 months, we will set out how work to transform many of our buildings will lead to significant further reductions in our carbon footprint as well as acknowledging significant remaining challenges that will need to be addressed through further investment during this decade.
As we demand more of our ourselves, so we expect more of our partners.
Our new policy sets out how we are committed to working with funders who are also on a journey to decarbonise, becoming the first cultural institution to use the respected Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI) to assess partners’ progress.
Using publicly disclosed data, TPI assesses the progress that companies are making on the transition to a low-carbon economy, supporting efforts to mitigate climate change. It was established three years ago as a joint initiative between the Church of England’s investment bodies and the Environment Agency Pension Fund and has swiftly become the ‘go-to’ corporate climate action benchmark.
We are very grateful for the open way TPI has embraced a new kind of partner in the Science Museum Group.
Faith Ward, Co-Chair of Transition Pathway Initiative says, ‘Science is at the forefront of finding solutions to the most pressing challenges facing the world today from developing a vaccine for Coronavirus to tackling global greenhouse gas emissions. Science is also at the heart of TPI’s robust, independent data to assess whether high-emitting companies are aligning with the goals of the Paris Agreement.
The Science Museum Group is the first cultural institution to join our membership and TPI is delighted that it has chosen to use our data as part of its sustainability policy. We all need to work together to tackle climate change and we hope today’s news can help the Science Museum and other cultural institutions to inspire their millions of visitors to and truly catalyse the transition to a low carbon economy.’
The data-led approach of working with TPI will provide clarity for partners who aspire to work with us, and it will provide transparency for our audiences, who rightly have high expectations of our museums.
Partnership and innovation have been at the core of a century and a half of our organisation’s history, and will be central to how we go about setting and achieving science-based absolute emission carbon reduction targets alongside robust strategies to address any remaining carbon emissions.
Our approach will be developed with expert partners such as the Woodland Trust and will build on our positive work such as planting 30 hectares of new native woodland under an English Woodland Grant Scheme.
There is a resounding scientific consensus about the scale of the challenge facing the world in mitigating climate change.
As we join the public, businesses and governments in changing the way we live and work we can expect that path ahead to be bumpy, but there is no more important task.
Some campaigners who care about the issues addressed above have suggested that we should also sever our long-standing relationships with several energy companies, such as BP, Shell and Equinor.
Alongside assessing prospective and current partners using the TPI tool, our Executive team and the Board of Trustees continue to regularly review this subject and the clear view has been that such an act would be unwise.
The major energy companies have the capital, geography, people and logistics to be major players in finding solutions to the urgent global challenge of climate change and we are among the many organisations that regard a blanket approach of severing ties as being unproductive.
We believe the right approach is to engage, debate and challenge companies, governments and individuals to do more to make the global economy less carbon intensive.
Through research and technological innovation in areas such as carbon capture, fuel efficiency and alternative energy, energy companies have a major role to play, and we must continue to challenge them to show more leadership to deliver on this potential.
We also achieve public good with the sponsorship we receive from energy companies. The ground-breaking Atmosphere Gallery (visited by almost six million people since it opened in December 2010 and publicly praised by Al Gore) would never have been possible without support from Shell.
Thanks to support from Equinor for Wonderlab, thousands of young people, from very diverse backgrounds, are inspired to be the scientists and engineers of the future. The same is true of BP sponsorship of the Science Museum Group Academy.
I am sceptical about the argument that such sponsorships are greenwashing. It would be much easier for companies to seek a quiet life by not sponsoring high profile institutions, because working with us exposes them to exceptional scrutiny.
Ultimately our visitors can – and do – make their own minds up about our approach.