Written by Henry McGhie, Curating Tomorrow, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bio: Henry McGhie has a background as an ecologist, museum curator and manager. He set up Curating Tomorrow in 2019 to help empower museums and their partners to contribute to sustainable development agendas, including the Sustainable Developmet Goals (SDGs), climate action, biodiversity conservation, Disaster Risk Reduction and human rights. He is a member of the ICOM Sustainability Working Group, and a Churchill Fellow working on these topics.
This blog post takes in some of the developments over the last couple of years, and sets out some current opportunities for museums with natural history collections to strengthen their contributions to environmental sustainability.
Let’s cast our minds back to 1992, over thirty years ago now, when representatives of all countries agreed to take action in three areas. This was the Rio Earth Summit, which adopted the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Framework Convention on Climate Change (the grandparent of the Paris Agreement) and the Convention to Combat Desertification. It’s entirely possible you may not even have heard of all of these, but don’t worry you’re far from alone. While governments signed onto these agreements, they were broad, framework agreements. It is true that governments were supposed to take the lead in these, and other agreements, but surely sectors – including museums – don’t need to wait to be asked? However, the agreements have just not been turned into action, and that is a fault of governments, but also of the sectors, that could have gained a lot by saying ‘we have something to contribute here’. What I’m proposing isn’t just that museums take up these agreements to look good, sound good, show off, or compete with one another or with other sectors, but to use them as practical tools.
Why? Because connecting with the big picture and international agreements helps museums to:
- Shape their programmes and activities, to provide people interested in these topics with educational and participatory activities.
- Put their unique resources to good use in pursuit of positive social and environmental outcomes.
- Play a significant and distinctive part in an ambitious programme for a better world.
- Build partnerships and collaborations, with one another and with other sectors, working to shared goals.
- Create and demonstrate impact, showing that museums and collections are not a nice-to-have, but essential players in securing a future in harmony with nature.