Building a culture of peace in harmony with nature, one museum at a time

Building a culture of peace in harmony with nature, one museum at a time

Conflict, inequality, climate change, biodiversity loss, erosion of trust. Our world faces many challenges that can seem hard or even impossible to tackle. We have the frameworks and methods to get on track to a sustainable future, so it is vital that we encourage people and institutions to not only learn what these are but to make use of them.

"Museums have the potential to be powerful catalysts for sustainable development...where human rights and nature are promoted together."

My Churchill Fellowship is about how sustainable development approaches can be strengthened and implemented in cultural institutions, notably museums. They have the potential to be powerful catalysts for sustainable development: places where people can explore the past and present, discover local and global dimensions, and can debate and decide upon which pathways they want to follow to create better futures for themselves, others and nature.

As part of my Churchill Fellowship, I have taken part in a number of events. In 2021, I took part in the International Union for the Conservation World Congress, online. In 2022, I attended Stockholm+50, a high-level political summit looking back on 50 years of action (and inaction) to balance human and environmental needs. Straight after that, I took part in the UN Climate Change summit in Bonn, exploring the all-of-society aspects of the Paris Agreement. Recently, a new programme has been adopted for the Convention on Biological Diversity, the main international agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, which emphasises the importance of all-of-society participation.

Together, these events and their outcomes have had a big impact on my thinking about how we can really achieve a more harmonious balance for people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership. Some of my key recommendations are as follows:

  • Museums and similar institutions should become more familiar with human rights and human rights-based approaches.

Human rights are the only internationally agreed standards of the conditions and rights that everyone should expect. They are fundamental but are under-used in practical terms. We should make them part of our work and decision-making. When talking about human rights, we should try to be specific: which rights, whose rights and what actions are needed to help fulfil them? Human rights-based approaches are a planning method that involves people in shaping decisions that affect them. Human rights and rights-based approaches can serve as a transparent framework for transformative public services.

  • Museums and similar institutions should also become familiar with the three goals of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

That is, they should look to understand more about conservation and restoration of nature, sustainable use of natural resources, and the fair sharing of benefits from such use.

  • We should bring the environment into human rights work.

Human rights were largely established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. That was before widespread recognition of the harm humans were doing to nature, although the environment is crucial to experiencing most, or all, human rights. The UN finally recognised the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment in 2022, and Stockholm+50 emphasised that we should all promote the understanding and fulfilment of this basic human right, and museums could play an important awareness raising. More broadly, nature and the environment can play a crucial role in overcoming past trauma, managing future disaster risk, and promoting peaceful societies - this will be a major theme of my Churchill Fellowship travels to Japan, which I am planning currently.

  • And we should bring human rights into environmental work

Sustainability, in its older sense, is too often thought of as using natural resources carefully (the ‘do no harm’ approach). The approach of the Convention on Biological Diversity goes farther because people’s lives depend on nature, and traditional ways of living with nature should be protected and encouraged. The sustainable use of nature and fair sharing of benefits relate to well-established human rights. Cultural and educational institutions, such as museums, can embrace the rights-based aspects of the Convention on Biological Diversity, to help more people to enjoy their basic human rights regarding nature.

  • Human rights must begin in ‘small places close to home’

Eleanor Roosevelt once asked “where do human rights begin? In small places close to home… without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world”. Her words stand as true now as they did back in 1958, but our world is also a rather different one. Our museums, alongside libraries, schools, community centres and many others, can surely be among these small places, where human rights and nature are promoted, together.

Interested in getting involved?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is 75 this year. Anyone can take part in raising awareness of the importance of human rights and bringing them into their own lives, by taking part in the UDHR75 initiative. We can all make human rights a reality, for ourselves and others, and nature can help pave the way.

To find out more about Henry’s work, please visit or contact him at You can read his guide to museums and human rights here.


The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.


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