Natural History Museum declares 'planetary emergency'

London's Natural History Museum has unveiled a new sustainability vision for the next 11 years, centred around tackling what it has declared as the "planetary emergency".

Pictured: 'Hope', the blue whale skeleton, in the Museum's Hintze Hall 

Pictured: 'Hope', the blue whale skeleton, in the Museum's Hintze Hall 

In a statement released on Wednesday (22 January), the Museum said it was making the declaration of an “emergency on a planetary scale…in recognition of humanity's failure to combat our destructive impact on the planet's survival systems”.

The declaration covers not only climate change and biodiversity loss, as highlighted by the climate emergency and ecological emergency movements, but also pollution, deforestation and other forms of habitat loss.

The declaration itself summarises some of the key statistics and trends around each of these trends on a global scale, before going on to detail the Musem’s broad plans for addressing the issues through its operations and across its broader reach, including changes to its research, partnerships and public engagement.

“We cannot hope to develop solutions without research that unlocks the underlying biology and applied science,” the declaration summarises.

“Alongside the science, all of us need hope: hope that there is a future where both people and the planet thrive. Building and spreading this hope through evidence and action will be the foundation of our strategy in the coming decade.

“In today's challenging times, we will create advocates for the planet: individuals who feel sufficiently informed, confident and motivated to make wise decisions, to get involved, and to use their influence and actions to make a positive difference to the global future.”

Decade of change 

In a new sustainability strategy through to 2031, the Museum elaborates on its plans to deliver across this agenda through its operations, collection, research and reach.

Operationally, the Museum has committed to setting emissions reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement’s more ambitious 1.5C trajectory. The IPCC states that alignment with this trajectory will require net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest, on a global scale. In order to finance progress towards this goal, the Strategy calls for a “greater level of reliable funding” from the UK Government and other backers.

The Strategy’s centrepiece is the creation of a sustainable science and digitisation centre, where collections will be documented digitally, collection-based research will be carried out and sciences will be taught. The Museum says the proposed facility will be energy-efficient, space-efficient, and provide “a hub for partnerships with research institutions, museums and industry”. All research carried out at the centre will need to drive progress towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

It also details plans for a year-long season of events and activities on biodiversity; transforming five acres of Museum gardens into an urban nature exhibit; developing a new off-site facility to promote nature conservation; launching ‘citizen projects’ to track climate impacts across the UK;and updating the Museum website to provide a ‘natural history on-demand’ service.

The strategy is, however, lacking in any time-bound numerical commitments at present.

“In this time of unprecedented threat, we need an unprecedented global response,” Natural History Museum director Mike Dixon said.

“Our strategy is built around our vision of a future where people and planet thrive. Our ethos is one of hope; that by working together we can change the current path.”

Sarah George



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