At the latest COP24 in Poland, nations gathered to progress UN international climate goals. The great David Attenborough called on us all to #TakeYourSeat. It comes less than two months after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that even 1.5°C of warming will have huge planetary impacts and could wipe out 90% of coral reefs, and that the consequences of 2°C will be devastating and potentially irreversible.
So with COP24 fresh in our minds, we caught up with Ollie Hayes, lead climate change campaigner at Friends of the Earth, an affiliate partner of Triodos since 2007. Ollie shares how his organisation is helping increase public awareness of what needs to be done to manage the transition to a more sustainable world, while highlighting what it is we as individuals can do, and how putting pressure on the government can also help create the world we want to see.
Tell us a little about what you do at Friends of the Earth?
Ollie Hayes: We are part of an international community dedicated to protecting the natural world and the wellbeing of everyone in it. We lead campaigns, provide resources and information, and drive real solutions to the environmental problems facing us all. And right now we’re working to make sure the UK government takes its fair share of action to keep global temperature rises to 1.5°C in line with the Paris Agreement.
That means re-considering infrastructure projects like the Heathrow expansion, new road programmes and fracking, as well as putting a rocket booster under the clean energy future we want to see. In the longer term we want government to set a target for ‘net-zero’ greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 – that means only producing the same amount of emissions that we could remove from the atmosphere, for example by planting more forests.
Can you tell me about the Big Ask? When it was established, what were its aims? What were its successes?
We launched The Big Ask campaign in 2005 with the aim of getting a law passed committing future governments to cut the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions year on year, in line with independent scientific advice. And by 2008 the government had created the Climate Change Act to do just that.
A real success of the campaign was the ripple effect of securing this - the world’s first law to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Soon after it was passed, the Climate Change Act was used as a template across the world. Another of the campaign’s successes was the diversity of support it garnered from environmentalists, musicians, celebrities, MPs, companies, charities and ‘normal’ people. This was a real strength of the campaign: people from all backgrounds uniting around one ask was vital to our win. The result was unprecedented political support: just three out of 650 MPs voted against the final version of the Act.
This year it’s 10 years on from the UK Climate Change Act, what else have Friends of the Earth been up to since then?
We’ve been busy with all sorts of campaigning.A highlight was winning our Bee Cause campaign by securing a ban on bee-harming neonicotinoid pesticides being used on all crops across Europe earlier this year.
Our Clean Air campaign has given people the chance to measure air pollution in their local areas with our Clean Air Kit citizen science experiment. I believe the awareness raised by that campaign is one of the reasons we’ve seen such a steep decline in diesel sales, which is great news for all our health.
We also launched a brand new campaign on plastic pollution at the end of 2017 to put a stop to the tsunami of plastic pouring into our oceans – with nearly 200,000 people having so far signed our key petition calling for government action.
And, of course, we’ve been working alongside communities to keep the UK frack free for the last seven years; a streak which has unfortunately come to an end in recent weeks.
What have you planned for the next 10 years?
According to the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we have just twelve years to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C; so we’ll be doing all we can in the next ten years to prevent a climate catastrophe from happening.
We’ll persist with the fight against fracking, as well as pushing for stronger ambition in government climate targets and calling for the fossil fuel giants to be held accountable for the damage they’re causing.
Away from the climate-sphere, we’ll continue to support wildlife by pushing for higher environmental standards in the government’s new Environment Bill and campaigning for pesticide reduction targets and changes in farming laws post-Brexit.
What role do banks’ and individuals’ savings and investments have to play in the tackling climate change?
Ultimately, what we – governments, companies, private investors and individuals – decide to fund and not fund will have an enormous impact on our ability to stave off the worst of climate change. We need huge state investment in things like household insulation, and we need investors piling into clean energy. But as individuals, we have a critical role to play, too.
Banks must be held to account for the ways they use our money, particularly when it comes to investment in fossil fuel projects. In the UK, many banks continue to pour huge sums into tar sands and fracking. This shouldn’t be acceptable. As citizens, we have a duty to not only move our money to more responsible institutions, like Triodos Bank, but also to tell those banks who invest in the fossil fuels industry why we’re leaving. A silent boycott is no good – those high street banks won’t change their ways until they get the message that people are no longer trusting them with their money because of their irresponsible attitude towards the environment and society.
What else do you think needs to be done?
It’s clear that the public are ready for a sustainable world. Low- and no- meat diets are on the rise and there’s been a spike in people avoiding single-use packaging, but the government isn’t making it easy for people to be as environmentally-friendly as they can.
The government needs to stop backing fossil fuel industries and shift its focus to renewables. They need to make it easier for people to use public transport, cycle and insulate their homes properly.
And finally, what can we, the public, do at home to make a difference?
There are lots of ways people can make a difference at home.
For a more climate-friendly diet, try cutting down on meat and dairy and where possible, eat more locally-sourced, seasonal or organic foods. As for getting around town, swap your caror taxi for your bike or the bus.
If you’re not in the position to change your lifestyle, you could switch to a green energy provider and move your savings to a responsible bank – easy changes that won’t impact your day-to-day life in any way.
Making individual changes at home is important and shows leaders that we’re ready for a more sustainable world. But we also need change from above. You could put pressure on the government to create the world we want to see by writing to your MP or joining a local campaign group.
Head to Friends of the Earth’s website to learn more.
About Friends of the Earth
Friends of the Earth is an environmental campaigning community dedicated to the wellbeing and protection of the natural world and everyone in it.