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World Cities respond to climate emergency through culture
Six global trends in culture’s fight against climate change

​Across the world, this climate emergency is now generating an unprecedented call to action. Two pivotal UN reports on climate change and nature have catalysed engagement and public protest – from Greta Thunberg’s school strike which has now spread to 125 countries – to the urban takeovers staged by Extinction Rebellion in London this past April.

The importance of this ambition and urgency to revitalise action cannot be underestimated. In October 2018, the IPCC called for “unprecedented changes” within the next 12 years in order to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees. But these challenges cannot be solved by individual action alone – they are systemic issues which require systemic solutions. National, regional, and city governments all over the world are committing to targets to address both climate and ecological breakdown.

Cities are increasingly recognising that culture has the potential to be a driver to address our climate emergency. Culture is not merely a reflection of the world around us, but also a provocation – a challenge to our norms and ideals, and a platform to express, share and shape our values.

Today, on the first day of London Climate Action Week the World Cities Culture Forum launches our latest report on Culture and Climate Change. The report builds on the foundations set by the Culture and Climate Change Handbook, which highlighted creative and cultural responses to climate change and environmental sustainability in world cities.

The World Cities Culture Forum and Julie’s Bicycle worked with 14 of the network’s world cities, who provided inspiring case studies of how city leaders are putting climate and the environment at the centre of their cultural ambitions. The report looks at four thematic areas: creative programmes & campaigns; resources & support; partnerships & innovation; policy & strategy, and identifies key trends as well as future opportunities all cities can act upon.

6 key trends have emerged:

  • There is a growing body of cultural strategy connecting to climate and the environment: Melbourne has embedded environmental sustainability within the city’s cultural strategy through its ninth goal ‘to care for its environment’.
  • Collaboration between cultural and environmental departments is increasing: To support Amsterdam’s sustainability programme, the municipality hired a Project Manager to develop sustainability support and training for some of the city’s top cultural venues.
  • Creative programming is growing in environmental ambition: The City of Austin’s Artist-in-Residency programme embeds artists within City departments to help provide innovative solutions or new process improvements, and to engage communities in creative ways.
  • Creative and cultural responses reflect local contexts and communities: The 2019 Toronto Biennial of Art asks us to re-examine the past to project alternative futures, grounded in the Indigenous, immigrant and settler histories of the city.
  • Cities are experimenting, designing and co-creating new sustainable urban models: Lagos Urban Development Initiative is bringing like-minded organisations and people together to advocate for a more inclusive, liveable and sustainable city.
  • Environmental sustainability is an essential component of local resilience and a platform for new ideas: In London, the Mayor’s Entrepreneurship Award engages university students on generating low-carbon and circular economy market opportunities with two new awards focusing on technology and the creative industries.

The full Culture and Climate Change: City Profiles report can be downloaded here.

Image credit: Photo © Connor Vercueil