We talk to Friends of the Earth executive director Andy Atkins as the environmental campaigners celebrate their 40th anniversary.
14-06-2011 | Since 1971 Friends of the Earth has led a sea change in appreciation that the environment matters and realisation of the huge environmental problems we face. Celebrating its 40th anniversary this month, the NGO’s next challenge is even more immense - to provide a vision of what the solutions could be.
"Looking back, Friends of the Earth has achieved broadly two things. It's been at the vanguard of turning the environment from a minority concern to a mainstream issue. Everyone, from governments to NGOs and individuals all recognise that we can no longer live life without dealing with the environment.
"Underneath that there are very practical achievements Friends of the Earth has brought about from its earliest days. We've been behind a whole raft of legislation which has made many of the things that people now take for granted possible, from the UK's first law on recycling to the Climate Change Act 2008 - the first legislation globally committing a national government to cut greenhouse gasses over a 40 year period.
"Many of the changes we've seen have been quite positive. The negative is that we now realise that the environmental trends we've been working on over the years in many cases are now extremely dire. The next big challenge is to convey that we really are heading for a planetary emergency if we do not take rapid action to reverse trends including climate change and biodiversity loss.
"Although we put up a good fight, we've always been about solutions. For the next phase, that becomes even more important. When Friends of the Earth began, people didn't even know there was an environmental problem, but generally speaking we've won that battle. Now they want to know what the answer is.
"For the next ten years or so the focus of our work is going to be articulating, not just the urgency of the problem, but an ambitious and realistic vision of what the solutions can be. If we respond in the right way, there is an enormous opportunity to improve people's well being as well as stave off catastrophe. The solutions are out there, but what's often lacking the political will to deliver them. Rolling out renewable energy and energy efficiency programmes would create jobs, reduce energy bills, and give us warmer homes. There's a big win-win if we can scale these things up.
"We know that many of these big issues can't be solved without international action. But we're also conscious that we live in one of the world's old rich industrialised countries and need to demonstrate the will to do the right thing. At the same time we've got to build up our international network, helping develop their capacity to promote sustainability in their countries. It's a twin track approach. To demonstrate that an old rich country can do it is so much more powerful within international negotiations. Britain led the industrial revolution, now it's time for us to start leading the new green revolution."
CV - Andy Atkins
Andy Atkins has been executive director of Friends of the Earth since July 2008. Under Andy's leadership, Friends of the Earth has continued to push for political action to tackle environmental challenges, with a focus on climate change and biodiversity loss. Andy's previous role was as Policy and Campaigns Director at development charity Tearfund where he oversaw the establishment of policy and campaigns work as a core focus for the organisation and championed climate change as a poverty issue among UK development NGOs. He was a key organiser and spokesperson for the Make Poverty History campaign, and a Board member of the Stop Climate Chaos coalition.
This article was first published in The Colour of Money, a publication from Triodos Bank.