Olafur Eliasson, The Weather Project, 2003. Photo: Marcus Leith and Andrew Dunkley.

Tate Declares Climate Change Emergency

The directors of the UK’s Tate galleries have authored a missive that claims climate change should be treated as a national emergency. Their declaration joins the cresting wave of activists, politicians, and governments who are doing the same.

In June, New York City passed a resolution declaring climate change an emergency, joining cities such as London, Milan, Sydney, and Vancouver; regions such as Catalonia, Spain; and countries such as Scotland. (The British parliament declared it an emergency in May).

At this year’s United Nations Climate Action Summit, taking place in New York on September 23, UN Secretary-General António Guterres will call for world leaders to reduce their countries’ greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent over the next decade and to net zero emissions by 2050.

Despite the large amount of energy art museums require to regulate temperatures for their storage rooms and to heat and cool their buildings, the Tate is committing to reducing its carbon footprint by 10 percent by 2023. The institution also plans to keep the issue of climate change at the front and center of its programming and has pledged to activate all four of Tate’s galleries in London, Liverpool, and St. Ives in order to “effect and inspire change.” 

The full statement released by the Tate on Wednesday, July 17 is below:

We have reached a defining moment in the history of our planet and the cultural sector has a unique part to play in effecting change. This week Tate’s Directors are declaring a climate emergency. Our pledge is to respond with actions across all four Tate galleries, and at our stores, that put this center stage.

Last week we opened Olafur Eliasson’s exhibition at Tate Modern. We took his ethical commitment to addressing environmental issues as a cue to offer a platform for discussion in partnership with artists, campaigners, artistic communities and cultural organizations. Hundreds gathered to debate in the Turbine Hall. Tate is committed to reducing its carbon footprint by at least 10 percent by 2023 and is switching to a green electricity tariff across all four galleries. We have helped shape international green museum principles for the care of collections and are sustainably sourcing food in our restaurants and bars, offering greater emphasis on vegetarian and vegan choices. We are auditing our travel and are adopting a train-first policy.

There are, nevertheless, some hard truths to face about how we operate; about the sustainability of public institutions, like our museums, and about the future of culture. Large public buildings, attracting millions of visitors from the UK and overseas, require energy. We see caring for and sharing a national art collection as a public good, but it also consumes resource. We are rooted in the UK but international in outlook: Making art accessible globally depends on the movement of works of art across the world.

That’s why we pledge to make our long-term commitment ambitious in scope. We will interrogate our systems, our values and our programs, and look for ways to become more adaptive and responsible.  

As an organization that works with living artists, we should respond to and amplify their concerns. And, as our audiences and communities across the world confront climate extinction, so we must shine a spotlight on this critical issue through art.

Our declaration of a climate emergency is just the beginning in our determination to effect and inspire change.