The Clock is Ticking: Reflections on COP26

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Green Zone COP26. Marina Herriges at the IIC exhibit. Image courtesy of Sarah Stannage.

 

Despite the greenwash present in some areas, I did find many notes of optimism within the Green Zone. It was really energising to spend a week with brilliant and inspiring people, including the protestors, from all over the world who were actively trying to find solutions, be they scientific, practical or political, to the issues we face.

By Sarah Stannage, IIC Executive Director We’ve been inundated with messages of praise and support – both to IIC’s announcement for the Joint Commitment for Climate Action in Cultural Heritage with ICOM-CC and ICCROM and also to IIC’s attendance and representation of our profession at the UN’s COP26 in Glasgow.

As I set off in November for my first COP it was with some apprehension. Having spoken to a few seasoned colleagues, I understood these conferences can bring a mixture of emotions—hope, fear, contradiction and occasional despair.

Split by the river Clyde in Glasgow, the two zones—the Green Zone (a space for civic society, business, academia, youth groups and artists) and the Blue Zone (with pavilions representing countries and territories) felt like different worlds. There has been much criticism that this COP was under-representative of people from countries and communities that are the most impacted by climate change. It certainly felt as though many of the in-person panels in the Blue Zone were not truly inclusive or representative. Transport and Covid restrictions were a factor, and despite significant virtual representation—it was great to see the Climate Heritage Network efforts in this space launching a manifesto and as partners in the Race to Resilience—I think it is fair to say we have some way to go before everyone has an equal voice to ensure we get the best solutions to the significant problems we face.

Despite the greenwash present in some areas, I did find many notes of optimism within the Green Zone. It was really energising to spend a week with brilliant and inspiring people, including the protestors, from all over the world who were actively trying to find solutions, be they scientific, practical or political, to the issues we face, or at least to keep the goal of limiting global warming by 1.5 degrees centigrade in reach.

We had risk specialists, lawyers and government advisors, academics and professors in climate science, film-makers (including the executive producer of March of the Penguins and game designers (including from Xbox) as well as school children and members of the public approach our exhibition stand, fascinated by the images and stories of conservators and cultural heritage professionals working globally from sub-Saharan Africa to the Antarctic. At least we can say that for those that spoke to us, they now know more about our work than they did before they met us!

We have been informed by the COP26 organisers that IIC’s Google Arts + Culture online exhibition page, A Time for Action in Cultural Heritage Conservation, received an astonishing quarter-million views from members of the public during the two weeks. Our Edit-a-Thon received great support and engagement with an astonishing 52 editors trained by IIC and Wikimedia UK within a week—in the end we added over 50,000 words to Wikipedia, 30,000 article (re)views, and 18 new category pages created and translated into Spanish, Swedish and Portuguese focused on sustainability and climate action in cultural heritage conservation. You will be able to read a more in-depth piece about the COP26 Edit-a-Thon from Marina Herriges (Associate Editor for Environmental Sustainability) on IIC’s Community platform in January, but we could not have done this without the contributions from students, our university partners, IIC Fellows and friends at AICCM and Wikimedia UK.

I could go on and on, but ultimately this is a testament to conservators and cultural heritage professionals all over the world, adapting and responding to the crisis with practical actions. We are a passion profession, but we are fundamentally doers and brilliant problem solvers—I think it’s in our DNA as a profession, and this just underlines the importance of our work and the important role of conservators in society. We should never underestimate our capacity to promote positive change through the power of partnership, friendship, community and collective action in responding to the challenges before us.

A very special thank you must go to colleagues from ICOM-CC and ICCROM for their generous support and for working so closely with us to meet some very tight deadlines.

The fact that we can work at pace gives me hope. We know there is much to do, and the clock is ticking. Let’s just hope the world’s leaders can hear it, figuratively speaking, as loudly as the rest of us! And finally, it is a real pleasure to include here reflections from Stephanie de Roemer, member of the International Council of Museums-Conservation Committee (ICOM-CC) Directory Board and resident of Glasgow, who kindly supported the exhibition at COP26:

“I attended the Green Zone to assist and support Sarah Stannage and Marina Herriges from IIC in representing and advocating for the cultural heritage conservation community at COP26. “Set up in the Science Centre next to the river Clyde in the Clyde Suit, many interested people were keen to hear about conservation for cultural heritage, many admitting to not knowing what conservation in this context is and that they never had thought much about cultural heritage and its significance and value to, and in the context of, sustainability and climate change.

“Conversations were all different and touched on different aspects of conservation, but provided an opportunity to advocate preventive conservation concepts and methodologies, such as conservation risk assessment, as opportunities for broader and public engagement with conservation while also highlighting conservation as a methodology of applied sciences and pragmatic problem solving, very much key elements towards achieving social and environmental sustainability.

“Explaining the origin of the IIC and ICOM/ ICOM-CC was also of interest to many as it provided substance to the present and future aims and ambitions of the conservation profession on the historical context of their founding as an act and commitment of solidarity.

“It was inspiring and wonderful to see how the commitment of IIC, ICOM-CC, and ICCROM has taken its first steps at such a significant event and global platform and outreach opportunity to advocate the role and significance of our shared cultural heritage as being part of finding new ways towards achieving a sustainable future. Many thanks go to Sarah Stannage and the IIC for having provided me with the opportunity to participate and advocate for ICOM-CC at COP26.”

(Read the article and see the images in the December-January 2022 "News in Conservation" Issue 87, p. 33-35)

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As I set off in November for my first COP it was with some apprehension. Having spoken to a few seasoned colleagues, I understood these conferences can bring a mixture of emotions—hope, fear, contradiction and occasional despair.
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