At the Gold Standard Foundation my career is all about tackling the climate emergency. When speaking with friends and family the two questions I get asked the most are, ‘Do we still have time to fix this thing?' and, if so, ‘How?’. Let me try to answer both.
This week at Hay Festival I explored what it might look like to live in a de-carbonised world, something that I think is important to be able to imagine. My answer to the question of whether we can fix it then is I think so, not unscathed, certainly much changed but yes we can fix it, at least enough.
That bold answer demands a good response to the second question, ‘What can we do about it?’.
First things first; climate change is a multi-decade, major policy and economic shift requiring international co-operation and collective action. Planting trees can't fix it. No moonshot technology can fix it.
Yet let’s not catastrophise. Yes it’s scary. But we need you at your best, most optimistic, and most furiously and hopefully committed. Here are my top six things you can do:
1 Vote at every level for candidates that have climate amongtheir top priorities. Vote those people for school governor, student rep, community groups, building society boards, pension funds, unions, boards of directors, professional representatives, professional bodies and everything else you can think of. Let’s stack every walk of life we can in our favour.
2 Demand that taxes are paid. Climate finance, the capacity to support developing countries, the ability to invest in innovation, they all come from taxation. The iPhone doesn't exist without State- funded innovation, nearly every complex part of it. Imagine the technologies and practices that need to be invented to avert the climate emergency and where those innovations will come from. A company that doesn't pay tax is working directly against the climate, no matter what they do in number 3…
3 Practise not buying things – it’s a lot more fun than you expect! But let’s be realistic, you're going to have to buy stuff so when you do, try to buy only from companies that have credible, transparently published climate strategies (and that pay their taxes). They should have a Science-based Target for Scope 1, 2 and 3 (you can check here) and they should be taking responsibility for their remaining emissions through offsetting or re-investment. They should have a zero deforestation target.
The same is true of the things you invest in, especially pensions and mortgages. These can be difficult to unpack but try to choose ethical providers.
No company is currently Net Zero, no company with land management in its supply chain is deforestation-free, so be very sceptical of those claiming they are. Realistically you're looking at 2030s at the earliest for most companies. What you want to see are detailed plans and few buzzwords (climate strategies are dull so be cynical of anything short and exciting!).
If you want to know what companies should be doing, I love this ‘blueprint’ published by WWF last year. This covers all the bases and is from an organisation with great credibility in this space.
4 Be much more local, consume more mindfully, drive a lot less, take a lot more public transport. Do what you can to make your home as efficient as you can. Shop with local suppliers so that your goods don't have to travel too far. Increase the ratio of plants in your diet. Holiday close to home. Work from home. Walk to the shops every time, walk your kids to school. Embrace this change now.
5 Fight for inclusivity. Nearly all the above ideas are also privileges. Take public transport for example: we are all going to need to get used to using it a lot more. That’s easy for me to say, though; I'm a 6ft tall white man. For women, for people with disabilities, for minorities, for kids, public transport can be actively hostile sometimes. That has to change or public transport and all the other things that aren't inclusive and accessible won't reach the coverage they must reach. We can't fix it unless everyone is included; human rights, human respect, climate change, they're all the same issue.
6 Support action if you can afford the time and money (but if you can’t, that’s ok!) There are great local projects you can volunteer for all over the country and if you have spare money you can participate in supporting climate action, such as projects certified by my organisation. I like projects that fight for climate justice by providing services to vulnerable communities and environments, especially in Least Developed Countries. Carbon markets can be a minefield, but you’re looking for fully transparent, traceable credits that are directly linked to certified projects.
It’s often said that the best time to quit smoking or take up exercise is when you move house or change jobs. That 'fresh start' mentality as we begin the slow emergence from the pandemic is exactly what we must harness now, as we form new habits and demand better in all walks of life.
My advice to people worrying about climate change is that they're right to worry. But try to channel that worry into furious hope and radical optimism instead. Now is a great time to start.
Owen Hewlett is Chief Technical Officer at The Gold Standard Foundation, responsible for key innovations in carbon markets, climate finance and corporate reporting. He appeared at Hay Festival 2021 on Wednesday 1 June to discuss Net Zero and what it means for us. Watch the event here.