Posted by: henrymcghie | May 5, 2018

How can museums help accelerate climate action? Presentation at the United Nations Climate Change conference

I had the very great privilege to take part in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference in Bonn this week, at the World Conference Centre.



The conference is called SB 48, the 48th meeting of the Subsidiary Bodies of UNCCC. The two bodies are the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI), which helps accelerate and mainstream climate action.

On Tuesday we had a special, all-day workshop. This was formally mandated at the last SBI meeting, last November, and was to develop a list of actions to enhance the implementation of the Paris Agreement through ACE-related activities. ACE – Action for Climate Empowerment – is the name that was given to Article 6 of the original 1992 UNFCCC convention, and Article 12 of the Paris Agreement.  It is divided into 6 priority areas: education, training, public awareness, public participation, public access to information, and international co-operation on these issues. The importance of ACE is incorporated into the Sustainable Development Goals (2015), Global Action Programme for Education for Sustainable Development (GAP on ESD, 2014), the Aarhus Convention (2011) and the Bali Guidelines (2010).

We had introductory talks and great presentations of practical examples of mainstreaming climate action. IMG_9338

Then we worked in groups to help develop lists of key actions. I helped lead the group on public awareness. In ACE, this refers to REACHING ALL PEOPLE AND IN ALL WALKS OF LIFE- it is about connecting with everyone. I spoke about the importance of raising awareness at different levels; what follows is the text of my talk:

IMG_9545.JPGIn terms of personal awareness, this is about how we think about developing our own awareness to help support what is needed to support Action for Climate Empowerment- because this is how we start to empower ourselves– understanding what is possible, what we can do, what we want to do, and understanding how to do it with confidence, an open mind, and a commitment to success. It is about understanding that there will be challenges and false starts, and that communication will not always be easy, but about being aware of that to help support our personal and collective resilience.

We should look at raising awareness of what has been achieved: small steps, large steps, lessons learned, relationships developed and networks built. Accelerating climate action will be like nurturing a very young plant. The plant is delicate, and vulnerable. We need to nurture it and treat it with care. Small things can get squashed.

I found the three Talanoa questions really useful: Where are we, where do we want to go to, and how do we want to get there

If we can grow our own awareness, and really understand who we are, where we want to go, and how we want to get there, we can have a start for action, to plan, deliver and achieve what we want to achieve, and we will be in a strong place to work with others, and build productive relationships, programmes and action.

Secondly, growing our collective awareness. Who is doing what? Where can we find good examples of awareness raising that have led to real systemic change? Where can we find collaborators., and how should we work together? What frameworks can we use to talk about when we have little in common- a commitment to a better future, to the SDGs and Paris Agreement would be good places to start, and help to connect the local- which is where action happens, with the global.

No single type of institution reaches everyone- so we will need to get better at having some headlines, or an elevator pitch of what is important. This could come from e.g. the SDGs (the future we want) or from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We should all help raise awareness of ACE- at all levels, community, sector, national and international.

Thirdly, public awareness. I think the idea of ‘the public’ is far too vague- it needs to be broken down to groups, communities of interest, of association, societies. I spoke about the importance of genuinely seeking to understand people and connect with their hopes and concerns, as you can only influence someone from their own position. This means being aware of what matters to people, of their situation.

Climate action often focuses on communicating the problem, its importance and the impacts. There is a problem in that as the information has an effect on our emotional state. There is a psychological model that thoughts create feelings, and feelings drive behaviour. So, the feelings that drive behaviour are especially important. I’ve heard inspiration described as the feeling that moves us to action. That is just the kind of feeling we should be focussing on. But, people can be inspired by good things and bad things, and inspired to good things and bad things. We should be raising people’s awareness of challenges that are being faced, and met, and generating new ideas and ways forward. We should focus on what can be done, not what can’t; we should definitely focus on options and solutions. We should create opportunities to explore the middle ground to explore ideas, possibilities, options, and pathways.

We must make space for people to have the ability to shape a vision of a sustainable future to their local situation, to ensure greater buy in. The more people are involved and ACE is not ‘done to’ them, the more it will work. We need both local and global horizons. We need to amplify what is already happening, and we need to have some humility in this whole endeavour, as everyone has a part to play.

We should explore climate change action in terms of opportunities- who is doing what, what we want to do, each of us and all of us, and we should try to step into other people’s shoes- thinking with the Talanoa questions- who are they? Where do they want to go and why? And how do they want to get there?

How can we work with people to ensure that they can make choices that align with their values and constructive climate action?

Where can we find institutions and locations that can help create a new collective story of a future that works for everyone, everywhere, and which secures a safe, vibrant natural environment? In the Paris Agreement, it mentions the importance of civil society in supporting climate action. Civil society is not the public- and lots of institutions are not part of civil society. Especially important are those institutions and organisations that reach large numbers of people, and that are trusted, as this trust will help support people as they explore shifts in knowledge, attitudes and personal action, and that are scalable. Trust is what enables us to take the leap of faith, and to go from the known to the unknown. Trusted groups and institutions include scientists, universities, museums, libraries and other cultural institutions, elders and religious leaders. Trusted institutions will be different in different nations and circumstances.

Let’s try to imagine some near future- where people are suitably skilled – technically and emotionally – to meet the challenge of climate change, and wider sustainability. People are enabled to help the necessary shift happen, and adapt to changes we are already committed to. Where the public are aware of what needs to happen, they understand their own role, they understand the connections between what they value, what they think and what they do. They understand how, and why to hold others to account.

Where people are active architects of the future, rather than passive (or unconscious) consumers of the present. Just as climate change was ultimately caused by billions of decisions and choices, so it will be rebalanced by billions of decisions and choices. As an example of institutions that can raise public awareness by doing things differently, museums reach a very broad spectrum of society, and seek to broaden their reach. Museums are increasingly recognising the importance of their role, as recognised through the Tokyo Protocol, adopted at the 2017 Science Centre World Summit, on museums’ role in supporting the SDGs. Museums have a key role in supporting the 17 SDGs, notably around target 4.7 (education for sustainable development), but across many of the goals. Museums can raise awareness of climate change and constructive climate action through exhibitions and public events. Learning is lifelong, and museums help facilitate intergenerational learning and dialogue. Museums can help communicate and promote climate action locally and globally, encouraging participation and personal action.

Museums, and other institutions, can take a different position to try things out- to help people develop their shared awareness of what is happening, and what needs to happen around climate action, and how they can take part. Making the connection between people’s lives and the wider world is a great role for museums to take- helping people give voice to what matters to them, and reflecting that back to people, and helping people share their views with one another.

We held a conference in Manchester in early April, on Climate Change and Museums, UNFCCC, IPCC were there, along with academics and museum workers. The conclusion from that conference was that we believe that all types of museums have something to offer to climate education and empowerment, whether they be science or natural history museums, archaeology or anthropology museums, military museums, or other museum types. Each type can help people understand the history, present impacts, and future impacts of climate change and its repercussions on society, the economy and the natural environment. Exhibits in local museums can be focussed towards climate change education, awareness raising, and action. By way of example, Manchester Museum, part of the University of Manchester, has an internal commitment to playing a key role in Action for Climate Empowerment, locally and, by extension, internationally. The Museum holds a large number of events linked with climate change and climate action. The Museum was involved in the development and implementation of Manchester’s climate change action policy, ‘Manchester A Certain Future’.

Stronger co-ordination between museums, other stakeholders such as policy makers, UNFCCC, IPCC and other actors, networks of researchers and community groups would help to accelerate Action for Climate Empowerment. Many museums are already connecting with the objectives of ACE. I’d encourage you to think what networks could be developed, locally, nationally and internationally, to support stronger multi-stakeholder partnerships, and how information can be shared between different organisations, and in what form, to help accelerate climate education and empowerment.

In very practical terms, at the conference we worked on a template for a climate exhibition for anywhere that can be adapted to the local situation. We should have this ready by the end of the year.

Some questions to consider:

Who has what resources that can help with public awareness around the SOLUTIONS towards climate action?

Who has the MOTIVATION to support climate action?

Who has the EXPERTISE in reaching lots of people in empowering ways?

Who can influence the influencers to support climate action?

What global challenges have been overcome before, and how, and how can we learn from previous experiences.

How can we grow the collective awareness, to emphasise that this is a great challenge, but a great opportunity for people to get past their differences for a common purpose.

Awareness of what has been done, what can be done, what we want to do, and how we can do it.

To promote high quality awareness of thinking, feeling and doing.

We identified four key ways to help accelerate public awareness:

  1. Communicate messages using non-traditional and diverse methods in order to reach the widest range people possible.
  2. Focus on positive, solutions-based, messages, and help support opportunities for individuals and communities to express their ideas, solutions and existing climate action
  3. Make participation in UN Climate Change (UNFCCC) meetings more accessible, and information relating to these meetings easier to understand
  4. Use existing communities and infrastructure to amplify messages (as opposed to start efforts from scratch).


More general points were also made regarding public awareness:

  1. Launch public awareness campaigns
  2. Make options for climate action clear to everyone and identify actions that people can take
  3. Tailor messages to the audience
  4. Include the older generation, and not just the young. Acknowledge that different generations have different realities and exposures to issues.
  5. Focus on what can be done, climate action that people can take instead of the negative aspects
  6. Link people together to optimize multiple perspectives and lessons learned.


The full notes from the workshop are available.

Later in the day we had a short video from Emlyn Koster of North Carolina Museum of Natural History, on the work of museums in support of the Paris Agreement. Emlyn spoke about the way we are increasingly working together, through networks such as the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice and the Museums and Climate Change Network.


Afterwards I had the floor for a short time to re-emphasise to negotiators and other stakeholders present that museums enjoy a lot of public trust, they reach lots of people, they have tremendous freedom on what they programme and connect with, and that lots of museums are already working on this and want to do more.

Overall, the conference was excellent, and the workshop helped focus on solutions and action. This will go forward to negotiators to consider, and really felt like a step in the right direction.



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