New cultural and artistic initiatives related to climate change are launched almost every day. They raise awareness about environmental sustainability, encourage and create climate action, and develop tools and strategies for the reduction of carbon emissions within the arts and culture ecosystems. However, one could argue that there is one aspect to climate change that has been a little underrepresented in the cultural sector: climate adaptation.
Climate adaptation is one of the key elements of the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and includes all efforts aimed at increasing the resilience of nations, communities, individuals, and organisations with regard to the effects of climate change, such as an increase in floods or extreme weather events. Measures enhancing resilience to changes in climate, which are often locally specific, should not be seen as replacing climate mitigation efforts (like carbon footprint reduction strategies) but as a parallel and necessary endeavour.
Cultural Adaptations is a partnership project supported by Creative Europe and the Scottish Government that has been exploring how climate adaptation and the cultural sectors can and should connect. This project has put a spotlight on the issue of climate adaptation, both by encouraging cultural organisations to include climate adaptation actions in their strategies and creating tools for this, as well as by exploring the role that arts can play in helping communities and other organisations to become more resilient.
The Adapting our Culture toolkit is one of the results from the Cultural Adaptations project, and suggests a very practical approach specifically set up for cultural organisations. It provides a step-by-step guide for taking into account climate adaptation, not just in day-to-day operations of cultural organisations but throughout their business model, resulting in the creation and implementation of a specifically dedicated action plan. But why should cultural organisations invest time, money, and personnel in climate adaptation?
The effects of climate change are a growing concern worldwide, and many cities and regions are already developing (infrastructure) plans to that regard. Cultural organisations — involved in managing buildings, travelling, touring — will not be immune to the very practical challenges that climate change will bring in the coming decennia. Indirect issues of specific relevance to the cultural sector might also come up, for instance, as related to existing funding or legal models. Being prepared, having done an analysis of risks but also of possible opportunities, having an action plan in place, or being involved with other local adaptation initiatives helps an organisation become more sustainable and resilient in the long term.
Additionally, cultural organisations often have strong links to (local) communities and can play a role in facilitating conversation around climate adaptation and raising awareness. This can happen by example but also through programming and outreach. Local communities everywhere will have to adapt to changes in climate, even if the Paris Agreement climate goals are reached. Current predictions indicate this might include a further increase of existing inequalities, with the more vulnerable groups in society having more issues adapting.
As part of their action-research, the Cultural Adaptations project also experimented with embedding artists into organisations and governmental bodies. These artists aimed to help organisations in completely different fields find innovative solutions that increased their climate adaptation capacity, by sharing their unique set of skills and knowledge of artistic processes. This further strengthens the idea that the cultural sector not only needs to adapt to climate change but is also of great potential value in contributing to climate adaptation processes in other fields and communities.