Last year’s sixth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report laid out the extent to which climate change is taking place, its impact on the planet, calling for urgent action to prevent a catastrophic increase in global warming.
Culture as a tool for sustainability
Last Thursday’s European Commission report – “Stormy Times. Nature and humans: Cultural courage for change” – highlights the role of the cultural sector in fostering sustainable development. Enrolling culture as an agent of environmental change, the EU ratified the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The latter identifies cultural policies as crucial to achieving nine of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
However, the European Commission paper also notes that “the cultural dimension is not sufficiently integrated into formal 2030 Agenda reporting,” which creates a “risk of developing a parallel reporting system for culture and missing out on important evidence.” The report adds that the “framework of the European Green Deal needs to fully include the cultural dimension of sustainability at the strategic policy level”.
The Commission study says that culture can directly impact sustainability through choices and solutions from cultural operators as well as “empower and motivate people for change”. Cities are well aware of this aspect and will showcase examples at the upcoming Eurocities Culture Forum on 28-30 September.
Inspiration from cities
The City of Lille, which is part of the European Metropole of Lille and is the Eurocities Culture Forum’s host, is committed to making its cultural sector sustainable by 2024 as part of its involvement in the Agenda 21 for culture. The city held the first eco-friendly exhibition of the Museum of Fine Arts in Lille which is featured in the Cultural Heritage in Action catalogue of good practices.
By reducing the number of loans, designing a scenography with environmentally- friendly materials that could be reused and relying on digital technology solutions, the exhibition ‘Experience Goya’ tackled the challenge of offering a quality show while creating as little emissions as possible.
The Eurocities Culture Forum offers cities the opportunity for peer-to-peer exchange and to discover best practices with culture driving and supporting sustainable development. Local examples abound: from Belfast’s plans for the year of culture 2024 to transform its streets into an urban forest, to Dresden’s support for cultural organisations to draft sustainable strategies and sign the Charter for Sustainability.
From Eindhoven’s initiative supporting designers creating circular materials and products, to Stockholm’s warehouse to stock materials, from exhibitions and shows to be reused and repurposed. While Reims has added green criteria to the applications for funding for cultural organisations, Glasgow was able to decrease its energy usage by 50% thanks to its sustainable museum.
In Arezzo, a festival uses energy from waste disposal to power its equipment. Meanwhile, Krakow transformed its disused back alleys and other hidden pockets into vibrant green spaces for the community.
If Helsinki planned its last Biennial according to environmental standards, Oulu, Capital of Culture 2026, is asking itself: “How can European Capitals of Culture be European laboratories that offer solutions to the changing cultural climate in which we find ourselves?”
From local to European level
Cities will be running the show in Lille; they will explore and debate the concept of sustainable culture and how it is embodied in their day-to-day actions. Municipalities will develop a political initiative to help municipalities commit to innovative policies and projects on sustainable culture.
The Eurocities Culture Forum will also be an opportunity for Lille to showcase its methodology to calculate emissions for an event, giving participants an idea of what evaluation can be done for other cultural events in the future.
Cities need to exchange knowledge about inspiring examples. Long-term EU funding programmes allowing such interaction will be essential for cities to move up a gear when supporting the ecological transition through cultural policies.
*Foto: Jürgen Männel