Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Yes We Can: Cutting the World’s Carbon Emissions

by Lara Smallman 

Rewind just a decade and the terms ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘climate change’ were far from being in common usage. But in 2012, you can’t go a day without hearing about wind farms, recycling, climate negotiations or the latest must-have eco-invention. 

What was once the elephant in the room is now very much on the public agenda and arguably just as important, carbon emissions and their significance are finally in the public domain. 

Who do we thank for this turn around? 

With expenditure on climate change awareness initiatives running into the millions, one might say it is down to the Government that most of us are now that little bit more aware. Or maybe you think it’s down to the many NGOs and their campaigns that the public is exhibiting an increasingly ‘green’ pattern of behaviour. Perhaps it is a combination of the two? 

In two years of exploring climate change and attitudes towards it, for me, there is one thing, which stands out above and beyond all else, and it’s not a Government initiative. It’s a grassroots campaign called 10:10. 

A simple response to an often over-complicated situation

10:10 started in the UK in late 2009, and asked individuals, businesses, families, schools and organizations to cut their carbon emissions by 10% in 2010. Such was the appeal of their campaign that within 72 hours of launching, they signed up in excess of 10,000 members.

Photo courtesy of 1010global.org

I met 10:10’s Campaign Manager Daniel Vockins a few months later (and again just before COP16). When asked to sum up the campaign, Daniel told me: ‘We’re asking everyone across society to make a commitment, which is in line with the science and actionable within a year. What if we took that unprecedentedly diverse set of people and said to the Government, ‘Look, we’re ready for stronger action on climate change, we’ve done it, now what about you?’ 

Asked ‘why 10% in a year?’ they explain that, ‘two studies' conducted by the Tyndall Centre (summarized in PIRC’s Climate Safety Report) suggest that 10% a year starting in 2010 is the kind of target that will give us the best chance of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. 

Two years later, and the concept of asking individuals to make a personal commitment and take tangible action has proved very popular indeed. 10:10 has gone global and is now running in more than 40 countries, with more than 115,000 sign-ups in 186 countries - and counting. Among their recruits are over 2500 organisations, representing a phenomenal 24 million people. 

Whilst the UK Government was toying with the idea of banning plastic bags and tiptoeing around asking us to turn the tap off whilst we brush out teeth (both valid requests, don’t get me wrong), 10:10 was being about as bold and brave as it gets. The target of cutting emissions by a whopping 80% by 2050 was invoking one of two reactions; panic or apathy. The sheer figure of 80% would scare some, but the date 2050 meant, for the vast majority of the population, that there was no sense of urgency whatsoever. After all, politicians know they won’t be in power long enough to lose any sleep over missed targets. 

10:10 stood up and echoed the Government in saying that we need to cut carbon emissions. They went one step further, saying with real conviction that we can do it. But that’s not all; they set about showing people just how. Cutting the first 10% is easy, but it does become more and more challenging, which is where their expertise comes in. 

Photo courtesy of theecologist.org

Contrasted with the frowns of politicians, 10:10’s narrative is a refreshingly positive one: Slowly but surely, if we each do our bit, the 2050 target of cutting emissions by 80% is achievable.

But we need Governments worldwide to play their parts too. And they’ve got another big chance coming up this June at the Rio+ 20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Maybe they can learn a thing or two from the 10:10 campaign specifically and the model more generally: simplicity, optimism and empowerment go a long way.

More information:

  • If you are curious about how different emission levels affect global temperature, you can try out the Guardian’s nifty climate simulator.  
  • If you haven’t already, why not try calculating the impact of your travel, home and shopping habits with a carbon footprint calculator?  

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