Shell/Science Museum. Our latest correspondence
In July 2021 CDE wrote to director of the Science Museum Ian Blatchford, Acting Director Jonathan Newby and the trustees of the Science Museum Group to express solidarity with the campaigners pressuring the Science Museum Group to drop fossil fuel sponsors and to communicate concerns at their handling of the episode.
We were pleased and grateful to receive a response back from Jonathan Newby but disappointed that it included cut and pasted elements from other blogs and posts that the Science Museum had written on the subject and little direct response to our questions and points.
We have written another letter asking the Science Museum to share their experience of the challenges and dilemmas of ethical sponsorship and respond directly to our questions. We have called for an honest and open exchange. The full correspondence is available below, starting with our latest letter.
2nd September 2021
To: Jonathan Newby from CDE
Dear Jonathan Newby,
We are grateful for your response to our letter of 30th July 2021, in which we communicated our solidarity with campaigners calling on the Science Museum Group to drop fossil fuel sponsorship and our concerns around Shell’s sponsorship of your exhibition ‘Our Future Planet’.
We are glad to read that you agree that the climate and ecological crisis places humanity at an inflection point. The decisions we make now profoundly affect our very near future. We believe this grave and urgent situation makes honest and open communication vital. Ethical finance is a challenge for all of us in the cultural sector – we need to hold one another to account, and Culture Declares aims to provide a supportive space for truthful dialogue.
Whilst we were pleased to receive your personal response, we are concerned that you did not address some of the most critical details in our letter, and in the spirit of honest and respectful dialogue, we would like to invite you to do so.
- In our letter, we provided evidence that disputes the claim that Shell is on a journey to decarbonise and is on course to meet the Paris Agreement’s targets  (see below). Recent peer-reviewed scientific research has demonstrated that Shell’s Net Zero strategy for 2050 is unrealistic. In May this year, a Dutch court ruled that Shell is not currently on course to meet the target. You did not respond to these points in your reply. Is it the case that you believe Shell is on track? Will you share your understanding of the evidence that persuades you of that?
- You write that The Science Museum ‘believes the right approach is to engage, debate and challenge companies to do more to make the global economy less carbon-intensive’. However, you do not explain how The Science Museum Group is ‘challenging’ its fossil fuel sponsors or provide evidence that such engagement has been effective. In our opinion, debate is central to culture and science. Resisting overt or oblique pressure from funders to skew or silence debate must be resisted. Can you explain how you can challenge oil companies rigorously enough while maintaining agreements with funders that include clauses that disable staff from speaking freely?
CDE welcome your responses and, in the spirit of collaborative learning, hope you are willing to share your journey through the dilemmas and considerable challenges of ethical finance with our declaring community.
Culture Declares Climate and Ecological Emergency
 The latest IPCC report warns that the dire impacts of global heating are materialising far faster than most scientists expected. It predicts a ferocious century of climate impacts, particularly in developing countries. The science that the Paris Agreement and COP process is based upon is already out of date. The report shows that the current scientific consensus blames inaction directly on the fossil fuel industry.
Earlier this year, a peer-reviewed study by over 16 scientists was published. It analysed Shell’s strategy to stabilise temperature rise to 1.5c in line with the Paris Agreement – this study aimed to separate feasible from fantasy scenarios. The conclusions demonstrate that Shell’s net-zero plan is better seen as a defence of its core oil and gas business, which they plan to expand, rather than a genuine and essential energy transition.
In May 2021, a Dutch court ruled that Shell’s climate pledges “largely amount to rather intangible, undefined and non-binding plans for the long-term”, that the company’s “emissions reduction targets for 2030 are lacking completely”, and that it must slash its emissions by 45% by 2030 to meet the Paris targets. Yet, instead of agreeing to meet its obligations, Shell is appealing the ruling.
11th August 2021
From: Jonathan Newby, Acting Director, Science Museum Group
Dear Culture Declares Emergency,
Thank you for your email.
We agree that climate change is the most urgent threat facing humanity. It is this century’s defining challenge and demands our attention.
We care deeply about these issues but take a different view to you on how to achieve productive public debate and meaningful change, and the role that some energy companies might play in that.We believe the right approach is to engage, debate and challenge companies, governments and individuals to do more to make the global economy less carbon intensive. You can read about our relationship with a limited number of energy companies – and how we are committed to working with funders who are also on a journey to decarbonise – in this blogpost. We disagree with the way you characterise the Science Museum Group’s relationship with some of our sponsors.
We take our responsibility to engage the public around this vital issue very seriously. This year, tens of thousands of people across the globe have watched the Science Museum Group’s series of free onlineClimate Talks – debates held since this January in the run up to most important Climate Summit this year, the COP26 in November.A recent climate talk featured US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry and former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair discussing the urgency required to tackle the climate crisis and what needs to happen at COP26.
Thousands of visitors have already enjoyed the Our Future Planet exhibition which opened at the Science Museum in May. The exhibition explores the technologies and nature-based solutions being developed to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to help mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. These solutions are needed, alongside deep emissions reductions, to get our world to net zero as set out in the internationally respected UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 1.5 special report. At all times we retain editorial control of the content within our exhibitions and galleries.
I also wanted touch on the protest mentioned in your email. On the day in question, our onsite team courteously and calmly facilitated five hours of protest activities inside the museum. Only after this, when the museum was closing, was the group politely asked to leave in line with our duty of care for the health, safety and welfare of everyone in the building. Later, when the museum had closed to visitors for the evening, police officers spoke politely to the protesters who peacefully left just before 21.00.
At the Science Museum Group, we are working to reduce our own emissions as an organisation, and you can read more about this – including our aim to be Net Zero by 2033 – on our website.
ACTING DIRECTOR & CHIEF EXECUTIVE, SCIENCE MUSEUM GROUP
Science Museum Group
Exhibition Road, London SW7 2DD
30th July 2021
To: Ian Blatchford, Jonathan Newby and the trustees of the Science Museum Group from CDE
Letter from Culture Declares Emergency in solidarity with campaigners for the Science Museum Group to drop fossil fuel sponsors.
We represent thousands of culture sector workers and organisations, mostly based in the UK, who have come together to declare a Climate and Ecological Emergency. We express our solidarity with campaigners, particularly student activists and scientists, calling for the Science Museum Group to end its relationships with fossil fuel sponsors. We echo the campaigners’ concern that a national museum appears more committed to protecting the interests of multinational oil companies than it does the right of the public and museum staff to speak out and protest.
The leaked IPCC report for 2022 warns that the dire impacts of global heating are materialising far faster than most scientists expected. It predicts a ferocious century of climate impacts, particularly in poor countries. The science that the Paris Agreement and COP process is based upon is already out of date. The new IPCC report shows that current scientific consensus places the blame for inaction directly on the fossil fuel industry.*
Sponsoring exhibitions is an effective way for fossil fuel companies to gain social licence to continue profiting from extraction, pollution, human rights abuses and predatory delay on climate action. Their sponsorship of a museum committed to equitable science education, and with a new focus on educating about the planetary emergency caused by anthropogenic industrial activity, raises big questions about their motives and continuing ability to manipulate public opinion. SMG is sponsored by three oil companies, Equinor, BP and Shell, with Shell having one of the worst records. A Dutch court has ruled that Shell’s climate pledges “largely amount to rather intangible, undefined and non-binding plans for the long-term”, that the company’s “emissions reduction targets for 2030 are lacking completely”, and that it must slash its emissions by 45% by 2030 to meet the Paris targets. Yet, instead of agreeing to meet its obligations, Shell is appealing the ruling.
We express support to those who are boycotting the exhibition and concerned solidarity with all SMG staff, contractors, and partners who have been placed in a difficult and ethically stressful situation by the way this sponsorship arrangement has been handled and by the heavy-handed treatment of the peaceful protesters.
We call on the Board of Trustees of the SMG and on the Museums Association and National Museum Directors Council to consider and express their views on the following:
- Should senior museum managers invite the police to break up peaceful, educational protests that include minors (as SMG did on 19th June)?
- Should museums overtly build friendly relationships with fossil fuel companies and facilitate their attempts to convince the public that they are agents for decarbonisation?
- Should publicly funded museums maintain secrecy around sponsorship arrangements in ways that pressure or mislead staff and contributors? (It is clear that when such arrangements are publicly discussed, they are less effective at washing a company’s reputation.)
- Should museums revise their policies on equity, access and justice to include reference to the gross injustices against all those whose places, livelihoods, health, wellbeing and hopes are being destroyed by climate breakdown and the direct harms of the fossil fuel industry?
We are currently revising our guidance on ethical finance, fundraising and sponsorship. We would be grateful to know the views of sector representatives, including the board and management of SMG, on these questions to help with this process.
We also welcome anyone who has not yet declared with us, as an individual or organisation, to sign up and join us in discussing these issues.
Co-ordinators’ circle of Culture Declares Emergency
* Context about the leaked IPCC report https://www.politico.com/news/2021/07/02/climate-scientists-exxon-mobile-report-497805
About Culture Declares Emergency
We are a growing international movement of individuals and organisations in the cultural sector declaring climate and ecological emergency. This means telling the truth, taking action and seeking justice.
- Our Vision: The cultural sector is a leading contributor to creating a regenerative future that protects the planet and sustains everyone everywhere.
- Our Mission: To grow, support and mobilise a movement of declarers in the UK cultural sector and inspire and work with others internationally.
- Our Values: Truth-telling, Action-taking and Justice-seeking underpin our Values.
- Find out more