Critics line up to condemn Science Museum’s sponsorship deal with Adani Green Energy

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The Science Museum has defended what critics are calling a “reprehensible” sponsorship deal with Adani Green Energy, whose parent company, the Indian multinational conglomerate Adani, has faced accusations of stock market manipulation and fraud. The accusations have coincided with multiple companies owned by Adani losing more than $100bn from their share price value.

The allegations, made by the US-based private investment firm Hindenburg Research, have resulted in the former UK government science minister Jo Johnson resigning from his position as a director of the investment bank Elara Capital, which has links to the Adani Group.

The museum’s critics are focusing on the Adani Group’s vast coal operations, which, they say, are fueling the climate crisis. In June 2022, 400 teachers signed a letter saying they would not be bringing their students to any fossil fuel-sponsored exhibitions at the museum. In 2021, Chris Rapley, a former Science Museum director, quit the advisory board due to his opposition to it accepting oil sponsorship.

The museum has defended itself against such accusations by claiming it deals purely with Adani Green Energy, a renewables-focused subsidiary.

But the Hindenburg report claims intra-company loans tie Adani Green Energy to its sister companies much more closely than previously thought. The revelations have led to Norway’s largest pension company, KLP, selling its shares in Adani Green Energy due to fears it could inadvertently be funding the broader group’s coal investments.

In an interview with The Art Newspaper, Bob Watson, a professor at the University of East Anglia, a former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the former chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, says the sponsorship deal is “reprehensible”.

“It is totally inappropriate for the Science Museum to highlight the role of Adani Green Energy without highlighting the role of Adani in being a major contributor to human-induced climate change due to its vast fossil fuel activities,” he says. “So, whether Adani Green Energy funds are co-mingled with Adani’s coal mine investments or not, the Science Museum should not be involved with the Adani Group. If the funds are co-mingled, then there is even more reason to end any co-sponsorship between the Science Museum and Adani.”

He also raises concerns that the links to Adani have hurt the Science Museum’s credibility. “In my opinion, the reputation and credibility of the Science Museum is already severely damaged and can only get worse if it does not sever ties with Adani immediately,” he says. “The role of a museum is to show all the facts. This sponsorship with the Adani Green Energy Group does not show the whole picture; therefore, there is a lack of transparency—in fact, a distortion of the facts. Thus, in my opinion, it will hurt future fundraising activities.”

Joanna Haigh, former co-director of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College, is also critical of the sponsorship deal. She warns that museums are providing fossil fuel companies with political capital. “The Science Museum risks its global reputation by accepting sponsorship from Adani,” Haigh told The Art Newspaper. This is greenwashing at its most blatant, allowing a company that makes enormous profits from activities that cause the climate crisis to gain respectability by association.”

A Science Museum Group spokesperson says: “Adani Green Energy is the title sponsor of a landmark new Energy Revolution gallery at the Science Museum, which will examine how the world can undergo the fastest energy transition in history. The gallery will explore the latest climate science and the energy revolution needed to cut global dependence on fossil fuels.”

The Science Museum has also signed a second sponsorship contract with the Norwegian oil and gas company Equinor. The deal contains a gagging clause that requires the museum to agree to take care not to say anything that could “discredit or damage the goodwill or reputation” of Equinor.

The agreement, a copy of which was obtained by the journalism organisation Point Source, concerns Equinor’s sponsorship of the Wonderlab exhibition.

In response, a spokesperson for the Science Museum Group said: “The Science Museum Group achieves public good for a wide and diverse audience of many millions with the sponsorship it receives. Engaging people with humanity’s greatest challenge—the fight against devastating climate change—is a major priority for our museums alongside reducing the impact of our own activity as we work towards achieving net zero by 2033. At all times, the Science Museum retains editorial control of the content within our exhibitions and galleries, and this is asserted clearly and unambiguously in all contracts we sign.”

Last month, London’s Royal Opera House became the latest cultural institution to cut ties with the oil giant British Petroleum (BP), following a similar announcement from the National Portrait Gallery (NPG), which ended the company’s sponsorship of its portrait award in 2022. But a recent Freedom of Information request by the activist group Culture Unstained has revealed that the NPG spent £22,320 in legal fees when appealing a decision by the Information Commissioner, which instructed the gallery to disclose documents about the status of the sponsorship deal in 2021. The NPG dropped the appeal after announcing they were ending their sponsorship deal with BP in February 2022. A separate Freedom of Information request has also revealed that, in February 2020, the NPG’s Ethics Committee blocked a promise to reward BP with naming rights for a new “breakout space”.

The NPG’s relationship with BP came to a definitive end in December 2022. A spokesperson for the gallery said: “The Gallery’s Ethics Committee noted that any possible acknowledgement of BP support should be assessed by the Committee when renewal of sponsorship was due to be considered in autumn 2022. As the sponsorship was not renewed, no discussion took place.”

The NPG’s deal with BP was part of a block sponsorship arrangement with four of the UK’s leading cultural institutions. As well as the NPG, BP also agreed deals in 2016 with the Royal Opera House, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the British Museum. The British Museum is the only organisation of the four yet to sever ties completely with BP—although their contractual relationship came to an end on 19 February. On 14 February, a British Museum spokesperson said: “In times of reduced public funding, corporate sponsors like BP allow us to fulfil our mission to deliver unique learning experiences to our visitors. BP is a valued long term supporter of the British Museum and our current partnership runs until this year.”

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