1) How would you summarise the work you do, Paul?
Since its inception in 2007, the Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB) project has offered the hard data and confidence required for visualising a future where we have risen to the demands of climate science.
It has helped to reduce fear and misunderstanding and open new, positive, solution-focused conversations by showing that it is possible for the UK to rapidly transition to net-zero emissions with existing technologies.
My current work is to offer the most up-to-date support tools to citizens and councils who have declared a climate emergency, or are considering a declaration or action locally.
ZCB offers access to ambitious up-to-date modelling that shows that we can
- provide a reliable energy supply for the UK with 100% renewable energy and flexible carbon-neutral backup
- grow the vast majority of the food we need for a healthy, low-carbon diet, and manage our land to capture carbon, nurture biodiversity and increase the health and resilience of ecosystems
- deliver a modern lifestyle, create employment, help reduce poverty, improve our well-being, and ensure that the future we leave for our children and generations to come is safe and sustainable.
Our ZCB work helps build consensus on the necessary action and, most importantly, reveal the opportunities it offers for simultaneously solving multiple other problems (co-benefits).
2) What needs to happen now in the UK?
One of the key reasons climate change is such a serious problem is that it is non-linear, containing many systems that feed back on each other and accelerate change.
The reason this has now become an emergency situation is that governments and industry have not shown the necessary leadership, and, so far, have not acted fast enough. We are not waiting for more efficient wind turbines or cheaper solar panels – what is lacking is visionary leadership.
Fortunately, the human response is also non-linear and contains an emerging array of feedbacks that can also accelerate climate solutions.
Since the release of the IPCC 1.5C report, there has been a growing UK political and social consensus that to play our part, as a long-industrialised nation, in avoiding really dangerous climate change, we need to reach net-zero emissions well before 2050.
One of the most exciting ways this is revealing itself is the scale and speed that climate emergency declarations and action plans are emerging at town, city and regional levels.
3) What action can ordinary people in the UK take to make sure this becomes a reality?
In terms of personal action to reduce the impacts of your own lifestyle choices – stopping flying and eating less meat and dairy are two actions that will have immediate effect. Hot on their heels are driving less, insulating your home and switching to a green energy provider.
But to complement individual action, we can also come together in our communities and places of work to press for systemic change – collective action is vital.
City and town councils are increasingly declaring a climate emergency and are building net-zero plans on timelines from 2030 to 2038. The growing UK list includes London, Manchester, Bristol, Frome, Machynlleth, Forest of Dean, Scarborough, Norwich, Brighton, Trafford and Stroud, with many more in the pipeline.
This wave of new leadership at local level is accelerating, and a website has been set up to support them. It highlights a special conference being held on 29th March 2019 in Lancaster to support local groups.
There is also a global map of places that have already declared a climate emergency.
CAT’s summit will bring together those who have been using ZCB across the UK to cross-fertilise ideas on what works to accelerate change.
4) From your experience, what are the biggest barriers to effective action?
Our 2017 report Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen explores ways of overcoming the barriers. It shows how we can challenge the power of lobbying, media bias, etc.
But perhaps the biggest barrier is in recognising just how much we all do care.
Common Cause surveyed over a thousand people across Greater Manchester; 85% of people attach greater importance to ‘compassionate’ values – such as social justice, environmental protection, forgiveness and honesty – than they do to ‘selfish’ values, such as wealth and social status.
But people underestimate one another! 75% of people think that a typical fellow citizen holds compassionate values to be less important; and 65% of people think that a typical fellow citizen holds selfish values to be more important. But coming together to act can help break this barrier.
6) What initiatives give you the most hope that humankind can find solutions to the climate emergency? Any activist organisations you see doing good work?
The commitment and power of the groups saying the ‘essential no’ to what must stop are very inspiring, such as those protesting against fracking in Lancashire or those marching to demand action on climate.
But my main focus is the ‘essential yes’, such as the growing wave of councils declaring climate action by 2030.
7) What’s your biggest personal motivation or source of strength?
What keeps me going is the knowledge that our response to this challenge will not be linear.
As we approach a crucial tipping point, waves of actions from all levels of society become larger – as more people see them, more join them…
8) Can you recommend any useful guides to climate action?
Centre for Alternative Technology – ‘CAT is an education and visitor centre demonstrating practical solutions for sustainability’
Public Interest Research Centre – ‘We work with civil society to develop stories and strategies for a more equal, green and democratic society’
Common Cause Foundation – ‘a small, passionate team working … to strengthen and give voice to the compassionate values that underpin social and environmental concern’
EAT-Lancet Commission – ‘The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health brings together more than 30 world-leading scientists from across the globe to reach a scientific consensus that defines a healthy and sustainable diet’
Climate Emergency UK – ‘Declare a Climate Emergency – Go Zero Carbon by 2030’
Rapid Transition Alliance – ‘We will gather, share and demonstrate evidence of what is already possible to remove excuses for inaction and show ways ahead’