British Museum deal with BP 'completely out of touch' say climate change campaigners

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A British Museum masterplan outlines new BP sponsorship and a redevelopment of the wing housing the Parthenon Scuptures, or Elgin Marbles.

A new funding deal between the British Museum and oil and gas giant BP, worth £50 million, has been met with anger by campaigners.

The British Museum said the deal is a part of the masterplan to make collections "fit for the 21st century", to renovate the Bloomsbury museum and expand to new sites - but also to “phase out” its fossil fuel reliance.

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The masterplan includes proposals for an energy centre that will reportedly result in an annual net saving of 1,700 tonnes of CO² using low-carbon technologies.

BP and the British Museum

The partnership between the museum and BP has long drawn controversy, with many criticising the choice to take money from the oil and gas firm. The new deal means funding of £50 million over 10 years.

Chris Garrard, co-director of Culture Unstained, told LondonWorld: “The decision to sign a new 10-year sponsorship deal with BP is completely out of touch and we think the decision is indefensible. The reason we think that is it's impossible to look at what BP is involved in - the new oil and gas projects that is pouring millions of dollars into 2023, which we know has been the hottest year on record - and still be consistent with claiming you’re taking meaningful action on climate change.

"Just last year, George Osbourne (chair of the British Museum and former Conservative chancellor) said 'we want to be a destination for climate solutions and not climate protest', and that 'we will be a net-zero museum', and this totally flies in the face of that.

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“I think what this sponsorship deal shows is that BP and other fossil fuel companies are really feeling the pressure. They know their business model is on the way out, they’re being threatened and so they’re trying to seize every opportunity they can to try and take control of the narrative on climate change."

He said the decision should be reversed and that other corporate partners could be found.

An activist in April 2023 holds a sign that says 'Drop BP!' at the British Museum. (Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)An activist in April 2023 holds a sign that says 'Drop BP!' at the British Museum. (Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)
An activist in April 2023 holds a sign that says 'Drop BP!' at the British Museum. (Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images) | Getty Images

Elgin Marbles/Parthenon Sculptures

Also announced in the masterplan is an architectural competition next spring to redevelop 7,500 m2 of gallery space in the Western Range, which currently houses collections from Ancient Egypt, Rome - and Greece.

The Parthenon Sculptures, or 'Elgin Marbles' - to which Greece has long laid claim as they were taken from the Acropolis in Athens in the early 19th century - returned to the headlines last month when Rishi Sunak cancelled a meeting with Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in a diplomatic spat.

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Visitors view the Parthenon Marbles, also known as the Elgin Marbles, at the British Museum in January 2023. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)Visitors view the Parthenon Marbles, also known as the Elgin Marbles, at the British Museum in January 2023. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)
Visitors view the Parthenon Marbles, also known as the Elgin Marbles, at the British Museum in January 2023. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

The British Museum

Charlie Mayfield, chair of the British Museum’s Masterplan committee, said: “Next year we will begin the process of completely overhauling our outdated energy infrastructure and replacing it with state-of-the-art facilities that will dramatically reduce our carbon footprint, and we will begin a global search amongst leading architects to find a partner to help us reimagine the famous Western Range.”

BP

Louise Kingham, senior vice-president, Europe, and UK country chair for BP, said: “The British Museum offers a window to the world for the millions of people that pass through its doors every year. As a business that has made Britain its home for over a century, we are proud to be a long-term partner to this important British institution and play our part in its future transformation – whilst helping to ensure that this iconic cultural venue remains freely accessible to all.”

'Climate change threatens our security and wellbeing'

In 2022, more than 300 museum industry professionals signed an open letter urging The British Museum to cut ties with BP.

The letter said: “Climate change threatens our security and wellbeing, will exacerbate existing global inequalities, and poses particularly catastrophic dangers to Indigenous peoples. We are deeply concerned by this situation, and believe that we must all take action in order to reduce the harm that is already being done by increasing global temperatures.

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“We are therefore writing to urge you to end your sponsorship relationship with BP.

“Recently, some companies, including BP, have announced ambitions to become 'net zero by 2050', seeking to create the impression that they can be trusted to manage the energy transition themselves.”

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