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What Is COP27 and How Does It Affect the Art Industry?

“We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it.” – Barack Obama

Yes, climate change and global warming have become highly relevant, especially in the last few decades. People across the globe are recognising the fact that our environment and climate are being adversely affected due to human actions. And hence, corrective immediate and long-term actions are the need of the hour. These measures are required to be undertaken by all fields, including the art industry. Also, world governments and leaders have come together on various occasions. Through conferences, meets, delegations, governments have come together to commitand address the challenges of climate change. The COP is one such event where world leaders gather to find climate solutions. They discuss how different industries in every country can contribute to this common cause.

What Is COP27?

COP27 is the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as the Conference of Parties. It was held in November 2022 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Representatives of 198 countries attended COP27 to negotiate and discuss some pressing climate issues.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, is an international treaty that was created to help stop the negative human impact on the earth’s environment. In 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, 165 countries signed the UNFCCC. The COP, since its inception in 1995, meets every year to discuss the UNFCCC and assess how the countries are following and implementing its fundamental guidelines. The COP is thus where new laws, negotiations and discussions around the UNFCCC are held.

Shilo Shiv Suleman of India, founder of Fearless Collective, paints on a wall during COP27.
Shilo Shiv Suleman of India, founder of Fearless Collective, paints on a wall during COP27. Source: Reuters

Art Industry and Climate Change

There are broadly two ways in which the art industry can influence the climate change campaign. One is through interacting with and educating its audience. Art is a powerful medium that can turn hardcore facts into emotional expressions. Carbon reduction, global warming, deforestation, urbanisation etc., are big terms, each with a trail of statistics and scientific research. However, through art, which includes paintings, photography, music, dance etc., these complicated terms can be seen through a more humane perspective and gaze. Art can help in a deeper understanding of the problems that the earth faces by connecting with the emotions of its viewers. Thus, art is an excellent medium to spread not only awareness of the challenges but also knowledge and guidelines on how to solve climate problems.

The second way in which the art industry can directly impact climate solutions is by ensuring that all art-related institutions and programs are committed to reducing carbon emissions and pollution and incorporating sustainable concepts of recycling and recreation. The scope is huge, primarily because the art industry itself is massive. The discussions at COP27 thus also affect the art industry. From art houses, museums, art organisations and individual artists and associations, each has a role to play to their bit for the cause of climate change.

A COP27 delegate takes photos of a portrait by Turkish artist Deniz Sagdic.
A COP27 delegate takes photos of a portrait by Turkish artist Deniz Sagdic. Source: AFP

The Impact of COP27 on the Art Industry

COP27, held in 2022 in Egypt, continued the dialogue on the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement and how global temperatures can be limited to 1.5 deg Celsius. And thus, it is inevitable that all fields, including the art industry of all the different nations, have to work towards this particular goal. Also, ahead of COP27, the EIT Climate-KIC (a European initiative) brought together players from the CCSI or Culture and Creative Sector Industries to learn how they could contribute to achieving the climate goals set out by COP27. The participants included designers, artists, photographers, fashion and gaming experts, architects and more. The discussions revolved around how systematic changes need to be adopted, starting from the creative stages, supplier changes to marketing and distribution, where companies and institutions need to change policies to include the environmental aspect in their artistic businesses.

Moreover, the art industry, in general, across the globe does understand that it needs to align with the climate goals set out in the different COPs, IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and other UN climate initiatives.

Bodies Joined by a Molecule of Air by Invisible Flock arts studio and Jon Bausor.
Bodies Joined by a Molecule of Air by Invisible Flock arts studio and Jon Bausor. Photo by Fayez Nureldine/AFP via Getty Images.

Initiatives by the Art Industry

Though the art industry, like every other industry, needs to do a lot more to achieve the climate goals set out by nations across the world, there is undoubtedly some traction in the right direction. Organisations such as Art to Acres, Friends of the Earth, Earthjustice and Client Earth are partnering with art and artists to bring about structural and legal changes. Client Earth, for example, is taking up cases to ensure that organisations and even governments are accountable for the loss of cultural heritage in communities that are being affected by adverse climate and environmental degradation. They are helping set international climate laws, cutting costs of fossil fuels, working towards investments in renewal energy sources and more. Many artists and art houses are donating their auction amounts to such organisations and being associated with them.

Also, institutions such as MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) in LA or Tate in London are also working towards meeting their own internal carbon reduction targets. Other art institutions can follow their example to make sure that structurally, they, too, meet their desired carbon footprint. Besides, there are coalitions and international organisations that are set up primarily to help the art industry in striving towards positive climate action. The Partners for Arts Climate Targets or PACT, for instance, is a coalition of different stakeholders of the visual arts sector. They are trying to reduce their own waste and greenhouse gases and share knowledge on environmental sustainability.

Working towards moving away from using fossil fuels to renewable energy resources has been the highlight of COP27. Initiatives, such as the PACT are leading the way towards zero carbon emissions. This includes associations such as Galleries Commit, Art to Zero, Artists Commit, Art for Acres, Gallery Climate Coalition and others.

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