A Year For Climate Elections

Blog at www.campaignstrategy.org 31 December 2023 by Chris Rose


Here’s a proposal for using the opportunity of 40 countries going to the polls in 2024, to make the most of the climate framing reset brought about by COP28 and the global onset of ‘angry weather’.


As the UN climate conference COP28 ended, Faith Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, told AFP,  “Two hundred countries have signed a document to say goodbye to fossil fuels”.

Petrostates, climate deniers and even OPEC itself had fought to keep any reference to ending fossil fuels out of the ‘decision statement’ and succeeded in surrounding it with a forest of caveats and a fog of qualifications but there it was, as item (d) in para 28, on page 5, Part II.

Hardly anyone will look at those caveats but Birol has helped ensure that millions already know that governments have acknowledged they should ‘transition’ away from fossil fuels, and crucially, to rapidly triple renewable energy.

Many observers greeted this with a tired shrug: the world had known this was needed for so long, why hadn’t it come sooner?  True enough it was decades overdue but it’s a collective political confession with strategic implications.

New Social Facts

In itself the statement cannot mandate a change in the facts on the ground but it does change the terms in which the world’s governments now talk about climate policy progress, and so, as perception becomes reality, it changes the social facts, in this case the accepted reality of what ought-to-be-happening.

In my view it’s a big deal because it pairs the problem of fossil fuels and the solution of replacing them with renewable energy.  This reframes the climate issue in terms that are much more tangible, practical and everyday political than those of earlier eras in the ‘climate change issue’.

Previously the climate issue in COP-world has been framed as a question of science, and expressed in inscrutable terms of ‘emissions’, and since the 2015 Paris COP, through the obscure NDCs (Nationally Determined Commitments) and the hard to explain ‘1.5C’.  Those are all still important but they no longer have to act as metrics in tests of whether or not national governments are measuring up to their international obligations.

Now UN climate political commitments can be expressed in a language understood, and in actions verifiable, at ground level.  “Is my home village, street, city, farm or transport being powered by fossil fuels or renewables?”  The global climate issue can become more ‘relatable’,  and connectable to domestic politics.  Too often the national and international have been badly disconnected.

From the previous post – Al Jaber Proves An Unexpectedly Good Choice For COP President

Shortly before COP28 Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, former Environment Minister of Costa Rica, now CEO of the World Bank Global Environment Facility, argued that national politicians could fail in their international commitments with impunity because that was not a political issue at national level.  It was, he said, an even bigger problem than the shortage of finance for positive climate action and misallocation of public subsidies to fossil fuels, in both developed and developing countries.

Reframing the climate issue as an energy choice makes it not just easier to understand but more specific, like replacing non-specific or complex advice to ‘eat healthily’, with a specific diet instruction: ‘eat this, not that’. Of course many NGOs and businesses have framed the issue in those terms for years but the international political system has only now come into synch.

That should help by removing one big obstacle to generating genuine political engagement with the climate crisis: communicability.  As does the fact, which many national politicians have still not caught up with, that new renewable energy is now cheaper than fossil fuels.  Solar is now the cheapest electricity in history.

That ought to remove another reason why many national politicians have been reluctant to seriously engage with climate action: fears that it might not be feasible and affordable.

Finally, it’s an unwelcome reality that every country in the world is now suffering the havoc wrought by angry weather, which an increasing number of people realise is caused by climate change.  This is making the issue increasingly urgent.  As UN climate chief Simon Stiel said at COP28:

the political and economic logic is increasingly insurmountable: Human lives in huge numbers are being lost in every country, while fossil fuels hit household budgets and national budgets alike. Whilst there are vast benefits of bolder climate action.

And polling not just protest shows that in country after country, the public supports climate action.  So at least in theory, serious action on climate change meets the three default heuristic tests of political decision-making: is it urgent?, is it feasible?, is it popular?

In my view, the convergence of unaffordable climate impacts, affordable renewable energy and a new political default that fossils fuels must go, creates significant new campaign and advocacy potential to stimulate pro-climate action.  Of course potential is one thing and realising it is another: how can it be done?  There is one very obvious opportunity to at least make a start.

40 Elections

As readers have probably noticed, this year is due to see national elections held in 40 countries (more by some measures).  UK newspaper The Guardian has called it ‘Democracy’s Super Bowl’, saying they ‘represent more than 40% of the world’s population and an outsized chunk of global GDP’.  Making these into ‘Climate Elections’ could be logistically convenient for campaign planners as a follow up to COP28, and a global signal from civil society would be noticed by the media.  It’s hardly a new idea and rather obvious but sometimes the obvious and the effective can coincide.

Most importantly, it would be hard for politicians to avoid.  The objective ought not be to try and displace other issues and pressing concerns, although many of them from food security and health to children’s futures and economic prosperity, would also benefit from effective action to rein in climate change.  Rather it should be to maximise greater serious engagement by national politicians on the new climate agenda which governments have, however reluctantly in some cases, committed themselves to at COP28.

There would be no need for a one-size fits-all campaign ask, beyond action to ambitiously implement the agenda already agreed at COP28.   That is already fully equipped with references to ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’,  ‘respective capabilities’ and ‘the light of different national circumstances’.  But as Carlos Manuel Rodriguez pointed out,  “climate change performance at the country level is not a political issue” and there is a probably universal need for greater “political control” by civil society.  There are few better opportunities than around a national election.  National climate advocates and campaigners will know what works best and is most needed in their countries.

Nor would it be a failure if some national efforts were much smaller or less successful than others.  We are starting from a low base in many countries, and some governments, including the UK, have been sliding backwards.

For instance UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made a short and embarrassing visit to COP28 in Dubai, spending more time in the large jet he travelled in, than he did on the ground, and avoiding contact with UK climate journalists.  This followed an attempt in September to boost his flagging popularity with his own Conservative base by flaunting an agenda of delaying climate actions, falsely insinuating that fast implementation of green technologies would make households poorer, and promoting more oil and gas exploration.  A member of his government even proposed to abolish a ‘Meat Tax’ which did not exist.

The main reason for Sunak’s ‘bonfire’ of green measures was a hope that it would frighten voters away from the rival Labour Party which is way ahead in the polls.  That was based on a calculation, reportedly much debated amongst his advisers, that a bit of damage to the UK’s international climate reputation would benefit rather than harm them at home.  In the event his popularity and that of his party dropped even further, and it went down badly at COP28.

Behind Sunak’s calculation was probably the out-dated conventional wisdom in British Westminster politics that voters do not really care about climate change.  The only systematic study of how UK Members of Parliament think and talk about climate change is by Rebecca Willis, a political scientist now at Lancaster University.

Her work, recorded in her book on climate change and democracy, Too Hot to Handle , included conducting off the record interviews with a representative sample of MPs in 2016. (It’s quite instructive and worth reading, and may be one of only a few such studies anywhere in the world).  Willis found that even those who took climate change seriously felt they had to be careful because their colleagues saw it as marginal, “niche” or a “lunatic fringe” as one said, while another wanted to avoid appearing like “a zealot”, and a third said they were regarded as a “freak”.

One said she thought that a search among Westminster’s 650 MPs for those seriously engaged with ideas such as leaving carbon in the ground would “struggle to get into double figures”.

Political engagement with climate change has since improved in the UK Parliament particularly in the Conservative Party. The Conservative Environmental Network set up in 2013, now has a caucus of over 150 Parliamentarians, out-numbering groups favoured by Conservative climate deniers by three to one.  Even so, that attitudes like those revealed by Willis still exist, is attested to by Sunak’s backfiring green bonfire experiment.

This perhaps shows that it is in old industrial democracies where climate deniers have been most active, that national politicians are furthest behind the curve of public, scientific and business opinion on climate action.  All the more reason to press the climate case at election time, and make sure that was was signed up to in Dubai, does not stay in Dubai.

Note:

If you are interested, in this Political Studies paper Willis applied sociological political analysis to the ways UK MPs made a ‘representative claim’ for taking climate change seriously.  Here’s the abstract:

This article analyses interviews with UK politicians, through the framework of the ‘representative claim’ developed by Michael Saward, seeing representation as a dynamic interaction between politicians and those they claim to represent. Thus, politicians need to construct a ‘representative claim’ to justify action on climate. Four different types of claims are identified: a ‘cosmopolitan’ claim, a ‘local prevention’ claim, a ‘co-benefits’ claim and a ‘surrogate’ claim. The analysis shows that it is not straightforward for a politician to argue that action is in the interests of their electorate and that climate advocates need to support efforts to construct and defend claims.

Students of motivational values may also notice that the ‘cosmopolitan’ claim would tend to resonate with universalist Pioneer values, ‘local prevention’ (eg of loss of identity, safety or security) with Settler values, and co-benefits (eg better homes and jobs) with success oriented Prospectors.

Willis also has things to say about the need for pro-climate narratives to be more about people and families, appealing to hearts and emotion and less technical.  If you did consider taking climate into the 2024 elections, these might be food for thought.

chris@campaignstrategy.co.uk

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Al Jaber Proves An Unexpectedly Good Choice For COP President

Blog by Chris Rose chris@campaignstrategy.co.uk  twitter @campaignstrat  1st December 2023   long blog – download as pdf here

To use an old fashioned English term, whither the Climate Convention now?  In other words, where will the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) go, after COP28?   This blog makes some suggestions about how it could handle the fossil fuels issue, possible battle lines for campaigns, and from where I sit, way behind the frontline, shares my perspective on COP (Conference of the Parties).

A lot has changed in the 31 years of its existence.  The ‘science debate’ has been won, climate change effects are no longer a prediction but a lived reality, renewable energy can now effectively replace fossil fuels (though politicians may not really get this), and we live in a multipolar world in which the influence of the old ‘West’ such as the US and Europe, is giving way to blocs around countries such as China and India.  Before Covid intervened, climate protests led by Greta Thunberg, 350, XR and others reached unprecedented levels in many democracies.

One thing that has yet to change, is for the Convention to seriously tackle fossil fuels.  Until a week or so ago it didn’t look like a fossil fuel phase out would even be an agenda item for COP28. Since oil CEO and COP President Sultan Al Jaber was exposed as using the conference to make oil deals, it looks like the central issue. As the Financial Times puts it: ‘Success at theUN Summit in Dubai will be measured by whether a global deal can be reached on ending their use’.


 This blog proposes:

  • The Climate Convention risks becoming a Zombie Convention and losing pubic trust if it does not start a phase out of fossil fuels, the Elephant in the Room
  • Al Jaber’s oil business deals around COP and the industry’s investment plans and PR efforts confirm that the fossil fuel industry is going for broke in the end game and business as usual not a genuine green transition
  • The oil industry is socially and culturally incapable of transforming itself into part of the green energy industry and only government action can bring that about and ensure the full potential of exponentially cheaper renewable energy is maximised to help the world stay within 1.5C
  • Many solution technologies identified as with potential for exponential growth offer a smörgåsbord of campaign opportunities, as their obstruction would be a scandal
  • Convention rules should be changed to firewall the influence of the fossil fuel industry away from navigational decisions such as targets, timetables and policies, and instead put into a form of ‘steerage class’, involved only in implementation of a fossil fuel phase out
  • All evidence used in Convention decision making should be Positive Vetted and required to show proof of funding to exclude anything with fossil fuel linked sources
  • The COPs should be reorganised so they only deal with negotiations, and held separate in time and space from the trade fairs and satellite activities
  • National governments should enact similar firewall rules on the fossil fuel industry
  • If the work of the Convention is to connect with a gain public traction it needs a simple intuitively understandable scalable concept of what it means on the ground, in the same way that ‘Rewilding’ did for nature conservation
  • The Climate Convention’s mission ultimately is about disrupting business as usual. To show they mean business and build credibility and trust, governments should start by disrupting business as usual for the very rich, beginning with a ban on private jets
  • Nobody should be allowed to come to the Convention by private jet

‘Credibility Under Threat’

COP28 in Dubai is where the world’s governments convene to conclude the ‘Global Stocktake’ on how they are doing in tackling climate change, five years on from the COP21 Paris Agreement.  Last year’s COP27, in Egypt, saw growing NGO dismay at the number of fossil fuel lobbyists in the convention (636, up from 503 at COP26).

An attempt led by India the EU to secure a declaration that fossil fuels must be phased out, was backed by over 80 countries but failed. The whole COP was almost derailed by disagreements over finance to help developing nations transition away from fossil fuels and manage climate impacts. UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell said “The credibility of this process is under threat. Let’s remember there is nowhere else to go to solve these issues”.

Once the Asian Convention Parties (it was their turn to host) had chosen UAE as the venue, and UAE had selected oil CEO Sultan Al Jaber as COP President, COP28 was always going to be a public test of the credibility of the Convention in taking on the fossil fuel industry.

There were pro’s and cons to Al Jaber’s credentials. On the one hand, he has backed huge renewables projects and a global tripling of renewables, overseen a huge Emirati contribution to energy transition in African countries, and declared the “phasedown of fossil fuels is inevitable”.  On the other, UAE and the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company he heads, plans to nearly double oil production, and UAE has failed to report on its huge fossil methane emissions.

Jaber’s appointment was denounced by scientists, NGOs and more than 100 members of the European Parliament and US Congress.

Backed by the US, UK, EU and others, the Convention organisers embraced the gamble, hoping that Al Jaber would show the impartiality required as COP President and bridge divides between both countries and interest groups.

If it the gamble had succeeded, and the fossil fuel industry accepted a path to it’s own phase out, then COP and all who sailed in it would have been hailed as heroes.   If it had clearly failed, or more likely left us with a muddy outcome of many warm words and incremental progress on issues excluding a phase out of fossil fuels, the UNFCCC might have started to look like a Zombie Convention: walking and talking but with no real live political grasp on the question that matters most.

As it is, the pre-event disclosure that Al Jaber’s team was using the talks as an opportunity to do petrostate business and increase fossil fuel production, has inadvertently cleared the water.

It revealed that for the fossil fuel industry, the climate crisis is still an opportunity for Business as Usual.  It’s not just UAE, you could argue that’s true in many other countries including the US, UK, Australia and even Norway but it was UAE’s choice to put Al Jaber front and centre.  If Al Jaber’s trip to the summit of climate negotiation is remembered for anything at all, right now it looks like it may be for an unintended confirmation that the emperor has no clothes.  Perhaps one of the greatest political wardrobe malfunctions of all time.

To that extent Al Jaber was a good choice. His actions have confirmed that the fossil fuel industry is not to be trusted to self regulate, rather it’s going for broke in the end game.

Al Jaber will still be faced with the same agenda of issues as he had before. Both he and Stiell have called for the response to the ‘Global Stocktake’ to “course correct” the current path, which an authoritative analysis describes as ‘failing across the board’, and he has talked up his commitment to make good on the top COP agenda items.  That still leaves him and perhaps more important, his optimistic backers with a need to secure real measures towards ending use of fossil fuels, and the Convention with a big ‘Fossil Lobby’ problem (more below).

Is COP Fit For the Job?

As Stiell says, ‘we have nowhere else to go’.  Having invested so much time and effort in the UNFCCC,  governments would be more than reluctant to replace it with anything else.    That does not mean a new Protocol might not emerge (the famous Montreal Protocol on ozone depleting substances was a protocol of the Vienna Convention, not a treaty in itself).  The elephant in the room is a Convention mechanism on fossil fuels, with a phase-out as the obvious candidate.

The Climate Convention was established in 1992, without reference to fossil fuels.  It may seem strange now but in 1997 when Greenpeace mounted the Atlantic Frontier campaign against oil exploration, the main aim was to reframe the public climate debate as about fossil fuels and energy choices. (The first UNFCCC text, on coal and fossil fuel subsidy, eventually came in 2021 at COP26).

That campaign called for a fossil fuel phase out on grounds of the ‘carbon logic’ (= unburnable carbon), and for the June 1997 UN General Assembly Special Session on the environment to set a carbon budget. This previous blog from the time of the 2015 Paris COP tells the story, and noted that the UNFCCC mechanisms: “ bear hardly at all on the critical machinery of fossil energy systems, and not at all on the stockpile issues of carbon resources and reserves”.

That’s almost still the case but outside the Convention, some governments have made a start. BOGA or the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance was launched in 2021 by Costa Rica and Denmark.  The initial members were France, Greenland, Ireland, Québec, Sweden and Wales, with California and New Zealand as Associate Members.   The Alliance also now includes the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and the US Washington State as core members, and Chile, Fiji, Finland, Italy, Luxembourg and Columbia, as ‘friends’.    Its declarationstates that ‘more oil and gas resources need to be left in the ground’.

Core members of BOGA ‘commit to end new concessions, licensing or leasing rounds for oil and gas production and exploration and to set a Paris-aligned date for ending oil and gas production and exploration on the territory over which they have jurisdiction’.

In the Atlantic Frontier oil province. Greenpeace 1997, and Stop Rosebank 2023. Photos: The Guardian and Friends of the Earth Scotland.

Many NGOs have run campaigns to keep fossil fuels in the ground, from the global 350 to StopCambo, devoted to opposing new oil fields in the UK, particularly Rosebank which lies West of Shetland, in the same oil frontier as Rockall, where Greenpeace appealed to the UN in 1997.

Then there’s the campaign for a Fossil Fuel Treaty.  Eight governments from low lying states: Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Tonga, Fiji, Niue, and the Solomon Islands from the Pacific, Antigua Barbuda in the Caribbean and Timor Leste in SE Asia, have all supported the campaign for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.  It presents as ‘complementary’ to the Paris agreement, and was launched in 2020. It stems from a call for a moratorium on fossil fuel extraction made by Pacific Island leaders in 2015. It is supported by over 100 Nobel Laureates, 3,000 scientists, the World Health Organisation, the European Parliament and nearly 100 cities and sub-national governments.

Its website states ‘to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, we need international cooperation to explicitly stop the expansion of fossil fuels and manage a global just transition away from coal, oil and gas in a manner that is both fast and fair’.

As an inventory would be required for any stockpile-reduction type negotiation, Carbon Tracker Initiative, Global Energy Monitor and the Fossil Fuel Treaty team have produced a public Global Registry of Fossil Fuels, a database of current and planned production and related emissions. The Treaty campaign follows a long established strategy of modelling the work that needs to be done and at the same time building a base of support.

Support for a Fossil Fuel Non Proliferation Treaty

If COP28 does not find a way to revisit India’s initiative and make a declaration on a fossil fuel phase out, it’s likely that the public, or in UN-speak, Civil Society, will look elsewhere.  That could lead to a split between major fossil-fuel states and other nations.  (Last November, Oil Change International reported that the US plans the biggest increase in oil and gas development by 2025).

At one time taking on the fossil fuel producers this would have seemed an insurmountable obstacle. Politicians and advisers still thinking in pre-2020s terms might recall the 1970s oil-crisis, and the perception, if not the reality, that OPEC held the West to ransom through an embargo.  Or G W Bush’s famous 2006 statement “America is addicted to oil”, which was intended as a rallying call to develop alternatives but was repeated by many (especially climate sceptics) as describing a permanent reality.  Now the fundamentals have shifted.  True America is still using huge amounts of oil but globally, a surging tide of cheap new renewable energy is taking over.

A New Fundamental: Cheap Renewable Energy     

During the founding years of the UNFCCC, renewables were still largely perceived as clean but small, which they were, and expensive, which when compared to fossil fuels, they were.    Neither is any longer true (especially for solar and wind).  Whether or not COP28 has come to terms with this, remains to be seen.  It may not have done, as reflexive political thinking, especially amongst senior politicians, is often based on the verities of the past.

Analyses of the plummeting costs of renewable energy are typically very technical, which is a barrier to political consumption but in terms of raw politics, consider this, from the Rocky Mountain Institute  X-Change report from July 2023:

It is notable that according to the IEA, the number of people working in the renewable energy industry is already larger than those working in the fossil fuel industry …

… In broad terms, we have largely solved our technology and economic barriers and the main remaining ones are political. And here, numbers are on the side of change. Some 80% of people live in countries that import fossil fuels, 100% of people live in countries that have more renewables than fossil fuels, and fewer than 1% of people work in the fossil fuel industry.  There are billions of people with a very strong incentive to find ways to deploy nearly unlimited renewable energy.

The main reason renewable energy has become cheap, is that it has become big, and not just big but very fast growing, and as production scales up the technology gets improved.  fossil fuel technology, by comparison, is going nowhere.  For now fossil fuels are still dominant in the market but the industry is ploughing the same furrow, or drilling essentially the same holes.

RMI’s report focuses on electricity generation.  It stated:

‘surging solar, wind and battery capacity out to 2030 is now in line with ambitious net-zero scenarios’ and what is already the cheapest form of electricity in history will roughly halve in price again by 2030’.

‘exponential growth has put the electricity system at a global tipping point — where the transition away from fossil fuels has become hard to reverse, suggesting fossil fuel demand has peaked in the electricity sector and will be in freefall by the end of the decade’

Subsequent analysis by Lauri Myllyvirta of the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air reported in Carbon Brief also suggests China’s carbon emissions may fall in 2024 ‘and could be facing structural decline, due to record growth in the installation of new low-carbon energy sources’.

RMI pointed out that this change meant that the trebling of renewable energy proposed at COP27 and now lined-up to as an achievement for COP28,  was not so much a stretch target as something that will probably be exceeded (the increase may be fourfold). Not only would this make limiting climate heating to 1.5C more achievable but it undermines the case for allowing continued development, subsidy and use of fossil fuels.

This seemed to me to be highly significant in the politics of responding to climate change. In the art of the possible, much more had ‘suddenly’ become possible. Surely there would be specific calls for a faster replacement of fossil fuels by renewables?   Yet almost nothing happened, there was hardly a ripple.

At Business Green, James Murray noted that in previous days both IEA and Bloomberg had also published about the explosive surge in low cost renewable energy but in the mainstream UK press little or nothing was said.

One reason for the lack of media reaction was, ironically, that there was another big climate story of the moment, which was was much easier to tell: “climate change is out of control” said UN Secretary Antonio Guterres after record temperatures at the start of the month, which he followed up with “the era of global boiling has arrived”, as July became the hottest month ever recorded. The heat became life-threatening in Asia and North America and and fires ravaged Turkey.

But even that media distraction didn’t seem enough to explain the almost non-response from the policy community to this window of opportunity.  One thing campaigning has taught me is that it is a mistake to take it for granted that decision-makers actually understand what’s going on.

There is a long history of incumbent businesses failing to grasp the threat posed by exponential growth of new technologies.  News websites and newspapers, Airbnb and hotels, cars and horses and now ICE cars and electric cars, mobile phones and landlines, Wikipedia and print encyclopaedias, Amazon and high street retailers etc etc.

S-curve examples – from RMI X Change

Idealised S-curve by Aron Spencer with my annotations. With solar costs were falling exponentially in the early ‘nearly flat’ phase but it went un-noticed by most policy makers as they did not understand that it would be followed by a rapid uptake once it passed a price and performance tipping point.  

Key to this is exponential growth, which means that something grows in increasingly large leaps and bounds.  Exponential growth involves a constant percentage rate of increase and shows greater increases of resulting quantity with passing time, creating an exponential curve.

‘For example, suppose a population of mice rises exponentially by a factor of two every year starting with 2 in the first year, then 4 in the second year, 8 in the third year, 16 in the fourth year, and so on. The population is growing by a factor of 2 each year in this case. If mice instead give birth to four pups, you would have 4, then 16, then 64, then 256. Exponential growth (which is multiplicative) can be contrasted with linear growth (which is additive)’ (Investopedia)

This means that forecasts/ expectations of the growth of a technology such as solar or wind, will be wrong if they assume linear growth with the same annual addition, whereas in reality the annual additions are getting bigger each time.

By the same token, with a steady rate of exponential growth, if technology-learning takes place in each cycle, making the tech cheaper, something expensive but getting exponentially cheaper each cycle, will still look expensive for a long time, and then it reaches parity, it will be about to become vastly cheaper.  In the case of tech displacing fossil fuels we need politicians to remove barriers to growth so it can grow fast enough to help us stay within 1.5C.  (See RMI report discussion of fast and faster exponential growth).

Solar cost reductions have been exponential for decades (Swanson’s Law) but conventional forecasting failed to embrace the implications until very recently, maybe because most of the messengers were from outside their silo. (The RMI explanation of why linear modelling fails to anticipate falling costs and growth of technologies is at 5.1 in the X-change report).

From article by Max Roser at Our World In Data- costs are still falling – it was not until 2005-10 that sales started to increase rapidly

The falling price of solar electricity – pv modules (Fraunhofer Institute ).  Note the scale on the left and that the learning rate for solar has increased

A Lack of Political Understanding

In countries like the UK at least, very few governing politicians have any background in science, let alone analysis of technology change. The ongoing UK Covid Inquiry has shown how then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, struggled with ‘graphs’ and the threat posed by exponential growth of the virus. He was not alone. Evidence from the UK’s Chief Scientific adviser (Patrick Vallance) included this:

Sir Patrick told the inquiry that the issue of helping politicians understand the data was not unique to the UK: “I would also say that the meeting that sticks in my mind was with fellow advisers from across Europe, when one of them – and I won’t say which country – declared that the leader of that country had enormous problems with exponential curves, and the telephone call burst into laughter, because it was true in every country”.

So could it be that RMI’s message was not making much impact because it wasn’t comprehended by politicians?  In August I asked a few people if they thought this might be down to a lack of political understanding of S-curves and technological change?  Had anyone investigated this?  Nobody I spoke to knew of any such study of politicians (if you do please get in touch here or on Twitter @campaignstrat).

In the case of ‘what’s possible’ on climate change, politicians are highly reliant on advisers, and here may lie part of the explanation: a lot of people who advise governments, might have to admit they had been wrong.  Specifically, modellers arguing (not just RMI [1])  that maturing renewables would become exponentially cheaper and so grow exponentially, had long been ignored by forecasters who used models without exponential S-curves (eg this from 2015 on IEA and solar).

Actual solar installation increasing exponentially (yellow), and the (grey) IEA predictions 2009 – 2022 based on linear growth assumptions.  Governments assumed the grey lines would happen. In fact the yellow one did. From RMI X change.

In October, Nigel Topping, former UN Climate Change High-Level Champion for COP26 and founder of the climate collation WeMeanBusiness, was interviewed for a GARP podcast on what to expect from COP28 (the podcast is designed for risk professionals and is worth listening to).  Topping, who had a hand in both the RMI report and the State of Climate Action report, declared that “most people are not prepared for either the pace of change or opportunities”, had this to say about energy forecasting:

“we know technology transitions follow an exponential S-curve …[but] all of the mainstream forecasts don’t use that fact in many of their forecasts.  They try and do very bottom-up modelling which is why they are always wrong on the low side” [in this case, under-estimating growth of renewable energy] … “I think it’s a scandal. If you are always wrong on one side in your forecasts you should either quit the field or be sacked. But people keep earning a lot of money … a bit like economists generally.  So it’s a real problem that these always-wrong forecasts get taken seriously by policy-makers”.

He added that it’s:

“finally starting to change … we have academic research showing that extrapolating an exponential is a better forecasting technique than all the integrated assessment models and other techniques, and actually there’s some very good news coming.  It’s good news if you’re ahead of the curve. That is in terms of renewable energy and electric vehicles we’re looking at net zero in 2045 or 2042 … [and at 23.30]  … most of the other sectors are amenable to that sort of technology change”

Topping points out that it is in the interests of nations and businesses to understand the implications of technology learning curves, giving the example of cars:

“… the European car manufacturers are all privately cursing the fact that they didn’t start investing seriously in electric vehicles ten years earlier than they did. [they are] losing market share to Tesla and the Chinese.  Tesla have 21% of the US luxury vehicle market – [that’s] 21% loss [for] the BMWs, Audis and Mercedes … Chinese companies already have 8% of the European ev market and the European ev will be the whole [world] ev market in four or eight years”.

It is of course this dynamic which led the US and EU to embark on strategic programmes to grow green industries.

Potential For Exponential Growth In Many Sectors

One of the reports to have taken S-curves on board is the comprehensive study ‘State of Climate Action’ published in November 2023 by Systems Change Lab and others. It translates the NDCs or national plans (Nationally Determined Commitments) of countries taking part in COPs, into 42 sectors.  This covers much of the waterfront of issues to be discussed at COP28 through the GST or Global Stocktake.

Action on 41 of 42 sectors was found to be lacking (the only one heading in the right direction at the right speed was sales of electric cars, which is in the exponential stage of the S-curve).

 

Slide from State of Climate Action webinar (available online) November 15 2023, hosted by WRI. Webinar slides here

However another eight of the 42 were marked as ‘likely’ to have potential for S-curve (exponential) change, with another nine marked as ‘possible’.  These relate to electric vehicles, electricity generation, cement production, technological carbon removal, car journeys, electrified bus sales, zero emission shipping, ‘sustainable’ aviation fuels, green steel production, green hydrogen, medium and heavy duty commercial vehicle sales, and new zero carbon buildings. That’s a huge part of the climate pollution problem.

The technological learning element means it is easier to see how a learning-curve could come into play, ie progressive technical production improvements and scaling-up, dropping cost and driving uptake.  Others have also suggested that this might happen in some areas of agriculture and food production.  Regulation and market-boosting government policy can spur (or inhibit) these developments. 

Scandals Of Climate Obstruction

Being aware of the effects of exponential growth in energy solution technologies is important for campaigners and others trying to combat climate change.  In the transition there is increasing interest in ‘climate obstruction’ (eg this,  this and this), in other words the obstruction of progress in closing down and replacing processes and industries which produce climate heating.

Government climate obstruction can be overt – such as UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s attempt to build ‘wedge issue’ political support by adopting deliberately anti-green policies such as more licensing of oil and gas exploration, against the advice of both the IEA and his own statutory Committee on Climate Change, and his more comical pledge to ban an imaginary ‘Meat Tax’ – and less overtly, continuing to allow or require the use of out-dated and more polluting technologies and practices, and failure to prevent lies and misinformation about what is possible, cleaner and cheaper, or to mandate the use of new technologies which are in the public interest.

As has been discussed in previous posts, the existence of an unused solution, and allowing the continued use of a process which has awful consequences, converts a tragedy (which nobody can do anything about), into a scandal.  Particularly where the perpetrators gain an immoral benefit from the (avoidable) problematic activity. (See the Scandal Equation and VW).

Analyses of S Curve cases are dry and technical but offer campaign groups a smörgåsbord of potential campaign opportunities, focused on whether or not governments are delivering on climate solutions which could give their citizens cleaner, cheaper, healthier energy and jobs.  Depending on national statutes, many such cases could also involve legal action and challenges to climate impunity.

Identifying barriers or absences which easily translate into everyday intuitive understanding (Track 1 as opposed to Track 2) may be a fruitful way to identify the most viable campaign opportunities.

Perhaps it hardly needs saying but domestic campaigns and public pressure often play a significant role in shifting government policy, and by and large, what happens at COPs and in the preparatory inter-sessional meetings, is the playing out of negotiations based on national positions decided in advance, often long in advance, of the get-togethers.

Yes a multitude of side deals are made and ideas are hatched in the massive jamboree which the COPs have become, and if you are on one of the network of inside tracks inside the COP bubble, that’s valuable.  But to the wider public, including ‘community level’ campaigners, concerned individuals and the increasingly large world of ‘green’ businesses, the UNFCCC process is remote and as much foreign-policy theatre as relatable substance.  This is something of a risk for the credibility of Climate COPs in terms of public trust and support, especially as climate impacts magnify and public concern increases.

Can COP Become A Public Political Issue?

The Climate Convention, which is effectively charged with climate governance, with more than 42 issues and 197 countries and the EU to deal with. It has a bigger complexity problem than French leader Charles de Gaulle who famously complained “how can anyone govern a country that has 246 varieties of cheese?”  So is it possible for public campaigns to effectively help make the Convention work?

The logic of COP organising is driven by process. The GST is all about meeting and improving on Nationally Determined Commitments. But how many neighbours or relatives people do you know – professional climate geeks aside – who have even heard of a NDC, let alone know what it is?  Governments write them can the public hold them to account?

Country performance on COP NDCs is “not a political issue”: Carlos Manuel Rodriguez of GEF (right) with Anil Dasgupta of WRI and Helen Mountford of Systems Change Lab.

Former Environment Minister of Costa Rica, Carlos Manuel Rodriguez is CEO and Chairperson of the World Bank Global Environment Facility (GEF)­­ which helps fund action to foster those NDCs. He worries about the failure to connect the public with the workings of COP.  In a webinar discussion following the launch of the State of Climate Action report he argued that  “more important” than the money [subsidies and loss and damage funding being big COP topics]:

“climate change performance at the country level is not a political issue [eg in Johannesburg, Sao Paulo, Mexico City] “the common citizen doesn’t know what the Environment Minister is doing in his commitment to implement the NDC.  There is no control by civil society by common citizens in most developing countries, and I would include the developed nations as well” …

“we are not building capacity in civil society in those same countries so civil society can use that reporting as a mechanism to do political control of the executive branch as regards the implementation of the Paris Agreement”

“as a politician myself I see multiple gaps that we need to understand so we can empower the private sector, unions … the whole range of policy stakeholders at the country level, with the data and information so they can do political control based on reliable information which is what they are reporting to the convention”

And critically:

…”without such checks and balances … that element is not there [and] many countries will continue to commit to unrealistic goals and targets”

Even in the UK, which is blessed with a law which commits the government to set and meet carbon budgets set by a statutory Climate Change Committee which can explain what needs to be done and whether it is being done, holding government to account is a real problem. (Today 1 December 2023 the UK Prime Minister is being criticised for changing how climate spending is calculated, so as to claim it will exceed targets).

The Convention itself has no powers to impose sanctions.  This poses a public communication problem as ‘common sense’ dictates we should have a climate police force to keep governments in line.

Rather, like much international law, agreements made at COPs depend for being ‘binding’ on countries treating them as such.  Which in turn requires “a sense that a rule constitutes a legal obligation and that compliance is therefore required rather than merely optional” (a lawyer quoting a philosopher).

Arguably only the EU has a system of sanctions which national government cannot ignore, under its own supranational regime of shared sovereignty.  The Paris Agreement it does not make adherence to the 2.C (or 1.5C) 2050 target obligatory because that for the US to sign up, President Obama would have needed two-thirds in the Republican-controlled US Senate. Instead it made the process of production of NDCs a requirement.  Hence their importance to the COPs.

A World Economic Forum/ Quartz article explains:

‘The Paris Agreement can apply pressure on signatories. It authorizes a committee of international experts to monitor how well parties are complying with the treaty’s mandates … In reality, as with other internationalaccords, the more obvious compliance mechanism has been peer pressure: The climate summits themselves have been nudging parties to honour their obligations. At COP26, for example, prominent world leaders have publicly shamed nations. The media has elevated those nations that are pulling their own weight or out performing others.’

Which all leads back to public pressure and belief in the COP system. Which also requires public understanding and as campaigners will know, a multitude of factors such as a perception that climate-related actions will make a difference (value expectancy) and salience/ visibility in people’s own lives. My previous blog described one attempt to make climate change problems and solutions more locally relevant in one county of England.

If I were asked to advise on making the work of COP more salient at a national level (which is vanishingly unlikely), I’d start by looking at what people already see as important, and for parallels which have dealt with similar communications problems . One of the latter, is ‘rewilding’.

Rewilding of a Scottish Glen

Needed: A Climate Equivalent of Rewilding

For many decades, conservation and environment groups, academics and inter-governmental agencies searched for ways  to explain concepts like ‘biodiversity’ and the changes to ‘land use management’ or ‘habitat conservation’ practices necessary to sustain and recover nature.  It was pretty unsuccessful, and mostly an exercise in taking language and ideas from the professional techy world, requiring analytical thinking (Track 2) and trying to transpose them into the common or garden (intuitive, Track 1) communication terms of daily life.  The contents of NDCs are comparably hard to translate into everyday terms.

‘Rewilding’ however was easy to understand, and could apply from the field or garden to a national or international level.  So far as I am aware, the COP agenda lacks any such idea with vertical reach and scalability which captures both identifiable actions and an end result, and which can be applied to real places, such as homes, factories, towns, villages, regions or countries.

For all its limitations, ‘Net Zero’ has a similarly simplifying effect which is probably why it helped mobilise politicians but it is perhaps too flawed (not real zero, not climate recovery) and 1.5C compliant/consistent orSBTI ‘Science Based Targets’, is another professional bit of jargon, fine print to public audiences.

The People Probably Aren’t Wrong            

As to what the public see as important, viewed from inside the COP machine, the NGO clamour for action to kick the fossil fuel industry out of the climate talks is no doubt a bit annoying. For one thing, it’s not a priority on the COP grid, unlike NDCs and the GST.

A second reason might be that the COP executive itself probably can’t do that much apart from require more lobbyist transparency, which in the light of the Al Jaber moment, it may make a point of.  For a third, the ‘realpolitik’ is certain to be more complicated than pretty. It’s probably no accident for instance, that the Asian COP members chose UAE to host COP28, UAE being one of the richest non-Western countries in the world.

But the simple moral logic of not letting the industry which does the most damage, influence the rules supposed to stop that damage, is simple natural justice. It will be instantly recognized by the public, if not welcomed by the elites, in all countries. As Phillip Jakpor, of Public Participation, Nigeria said at COP27; “If you want to address malaria, you don’t invite the mosquitoes”.

It’s a ‘whose-side-are-you-on?’ question.  Alienating the fossil fuel industry might, for a time, leave the Convention a Zombie Convention unable to reign in the worst offender but at least it would be our zombie.  Alienating the public would simply increase despair and erode trust, especially amongst the young.

In 2020 the UNDP People’s Climate Vote, the worlds biggest climate survey, found that nearly 70% of under-18s said that climate change is a global emergency, more than in any older age group.  A 2023 UK survey found  ‘almost three-quarters (73%) of 16- to 24-year-olds reported that the climate crisis was having a negative effect on their mental health’.

A 2021 Lancet study of 10,000 16 – 25 year olds across ten countries* found:

 ‘over 50% felt sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty about climate change and 45% said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning. ..  Respondents rated the governmental response to climate change negatively and reported greater feelings of betrayal than of reassurance. Correlations indicated that climate anxiety and distress were significantly related to perceived inadequate government response and associated feelings of betrayal’.  

[*Survey in Brazil, India, Philippines and Nigeria, UK, Finland, USA, Australia and Portugal].

Expectations and Trust

Climate COP insiders are very aware of the effort they have to expend to keep their Convention moving forward. Progress is often slow and hard won. Process is complex and hard to explain, even if they have the opportunity.  Small positive steps must be celebrated in a war of attrition, and patience is a virtue. The flip side is that the insider view can become detached from both the public view and the climate reality.

Every time a ‘climate leader’ uses phrases like “last chance” to talk up a COP, they up the ante and the level of public anxiety.  On 20 November 2023 UNEP launched its ‘Emissions Gap report, highlighting the fact that existing Paris Agreement commitments need to be strengthened to achieve a 42% cut in emissions to have a chance of staying within the 1.5 C threshold. “We know it is still possible to make the 1.5 degree limit a reality. It requires tearing out the poisoned root of the climate crisis: fossil fuels” said Antònio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations

As the self-acknowledged ‘only game in town’ the UN COP process becomes the go-to delivery address for every new call for climate action. For instance on November 16 ice-scientists released the State of the Cryosphere 2023 – Two Degrees is Too High warning ‘melting polar ice sheets, vanishing glaciers, and thawing permafrost will have rapid, irreversible, and disastrous impacts worldwide’. It addressed the COP directly:  “At COP28, we need a frank Global Stocktake, and fresh urgency … We need tangible results, and a clear message about the urgency to phase out fossil fuels and for more robust financial mechanisms to finance climate action’.

Public rhetoric about climate change reaching ‘boiling point’ or ‘being out of control’ (that one’s undoubtedly true) rarely fits with the calibrated judgement of insiders as to what’s possible, such as Nigel Topping. He who frankly stated to GARP that “no huge negotiated breakthrough [is] expected at this COP”.  Yet of course, that’s what the ice-scientists and many others hope for.

Nigel also responded to the complaint that “we’ve had so many years of COPs yet emissions are still going up”, by saying “everything’s failing …  but it’s trivially true”.  The ‘so what?’ said Topping is “ok smarty pants, what’s your suggestion for a better process that’s actually politically achievable? … that’s when they start stuttering”.

I have some sympathy with Nigel Topping’s frustration. There are hundreds if not thousands of alternative process ideas and we have no time to rip everything up and start again. But the COP process could align itself better with both climate reality and public hopes and expectations.  After all, if fossil fuels are the ‘poisoned root of the climate crisis’, whose job is it to “tear it out”?

Dealing With The Fossil Fuel Industry

The Poisoned Root sounds like something out of a fairy story but it’s clear that the fossil fuel industry is the chief proprietor of poisoned root of the climate crisis.  So what should the UN do about its participation in the Climate Convention?

As a devout Catholic perhaps Antonio Guterres had in mind a ‘temple moment’?  The Christian story is debated but the temple economic system was corrupt, and at Passover sacrificial animals had to be purchased using temple currency. The conversion rates ripped off the poor. Jesus overturned the money changers tables and threw them out.

Wikipedia

The current UN approach seems aimed at making a rational appeal to the oil industry to transition itself away from fossil fuels to new businesses based on petrochemicals, and renewables. Al Jaber is of course in a great position to contribute.

A mark of how much things have changed since the 1990s is that Faith Birol, head of the IEA has become a trenchant advocate for an end to fossil fuel expansion, reminding governments that it is not needed to sustain the industry under any scenario compatible with the Paris accord.   In the introduction to its 2023 IEA World Energy Outlook Special Report The Oil and Gas Industry in Net Zero Transitions the IEA Director Faith Birolstates

‘The industry …  faces a choice – a moment of truth – over its engagement with clean energy transitions. So far, its engagement has been minimal: less than 1% of global clean energy investment comes from oil and gas companies’

The IEA is an autonomous International Energy Agency set up by the OECD following the 1970s oil crisis. Its report devotes over 200 pages to detail transformative business models across the whole complex ecosystem of companies in the oil and gas industries.

Will it work?  Big Oil refers to BP, Chevron, Eni, ExxonMobil, Shell, and TotalEnergies.  These companies control a minority of oil reserves but have an an outsized role in lobbying, particularly in above the line public propaganda.  Recently, Shell for example, has been criticised for investing heavily (in PR budget terms) in trying to win over young people through paying influencers to promote its brand through the popular computer game Fortnite. Big Oil revenue was 1.68 trillion U.S. dollars in the 2022.

Oil Majors ‘encapsulates the largest oil companies by tanker chartering’.  This includes NOCs, National Oil Companies such as Sinopec in China, Gazprom in Russia, Saudi Aramco and ADNOC, headed by Al Jaber. A 2022 Wood Mackenzie report found  65% of the discovered oil and gas reserves in the world are owned by NOCs rather than the more obvious Big Oil companies.  In recent decades the proportion controlled by NOCs has increased although the public Big Oil companies are said to be better at commercialising their finds.

It is obvious that the Big Oil companies are more available to public pressure than are the nearly all the NOCs. For instance, through shareholder pressure, and via governments of the countries they both sell in and where they have headquarters, staff and assets. However right now the fossil fuel industry plans to expand exploration and production.  In 2022 Oil Change International found that if enacted, Final Investment Decisions already taken by 2022 will commit the world to warming beyond the Paris target of 1.5C. In November 2023 Urgewald calculated that of the 1,623 companies covered by the ‘Global Oil & Gas Exit List’ database, accounting for 95% of all production, over a thousand plan to expand fossil fuel infrastructure.

From their investments, actions and public relations efforts, it is self-evident that the industry is going for broke and trying to cash in on its existing business opportunities rather than planning to transform as IEA, UNFCCC and others hope.

So can it be done?  Yes of course it can but only by force majeure. Eventually the displacement of fossil fuels by renewable energy will come about through pure market forces, and that will be non-linear and faster than many assume and will affect politics.  Consider for instance the psychological effect on voters who no longer see the need for oil or gas in their personal lives because they all power or cool their homes and cars with renewable electricity.  Governments would love this scenario where the market deals with the problem. Only it isn’t going to happen fast enough to avert a climate catastrophe.

Don’t the people in fossil fuel companies themselves care enough to change, don’t they understand?  Yes of course they understand but just as they understood about their products causing climate change way before governments even considered a Climate Convention, the ‘business case’ for continuing business as usual outweighed that.

Plus as social machines from my experience, oil companies tend to be culturally incapable of such radical self improvement. They are conservative, product-led rather than market-led, and not entrepreneurial. Around 2001 when BP temporarily rebranded itself as ‘Beyond. Petroleum” one senior BP executive told a frustrated adviser friend of mine, “you have to realise that this company has not taken a qualitative decision in over 100 years”.

They also attract people who do not want to bend to external pressures. A BP executive charged with making the company’s operations more user-friendly to local communities explained the resistance that he faced when asking staff to ‘listen’ to outsiders and couldn’t understand what he was doing wrong until he realised that ‘pushing it through’ was the very thing that had attracted many people to join the industry.

At a ‘White Space’ workshop run for Shell in 2001 another told me how difficult it was for them to agree change, partly because of group think. They were all engineers (etc). I asked him if they used psychometric models like MBTI and he glumly said they had, but they were nearly all the same, which as he knew, meant that getting change agreed was hard. Even so, that workshop took place because at the time, Shell was trying to change, due to the shock of losing public trust. One of its scientists briefing external consultants asked to generate new more sustainable business ideas explained that “our working assumption is that the future will all be electric, renewable”.

Many oil companies have indeed ventured into renewables, only to drop them again. And sometimes to pick them back up, and drop them once more.   Back in 1997, Greenpeace put some of BP’s own solar panels on its oil exploration HQ in Aberdeen. Not long after,  John Browne of BP declared that ‘with appropriate government support, solar could be cost competitive against fossil fuels ‘within a decade’. BP was expanding solar production. Shell followed. Both aimed to capture 10% of the global solar market by 2005. (Story here).

Shell withdrew from investing in wind and solar in 2009.  BP closed down BP Solar in 2011, after 40 years of solar R&D.  Shell went back into wind, only to scale it back and lose its renewables CEO in 2023, citing ‘investor pressure to focus on the most profitable businesses’.

The reality is that when the oil price rises, there is so much money to be made (and available for exploration for more oil and gas), that with shares linked to reserves and bonuses linked to profits, sticking with fossil fuels has been the default, and still is.  The solar pv market today is supplied 90% by Chinese companies, 6% Canadian/US, and 4% European. None are oil companies.

From Wikipedia  The United States and Canada manufactured 6%, and Europe manufactured a mere 4%. In 2021 China produced about 80% of the polysilicon, 95% of wafers, 80% of cells and 70% of modules

2023: having gone back into renewables again, BP shifts back to oil again. The FT says:The echoes of the early 2000s’ “Beyond Petroleum” campaign and subsequent reversal are clear. There is logic to the move. Oil and gas prices are high, making the company’s fossil fuel operations hugely profitable once again. Many investors were never really convinced by BP’s transition strategy, which called for putting profits from oil and gas operations into lower-return, clean energy businesses. The strategy was not green enough to compete with “pure-play” renewables groups, but no longer oily enough to keep up with the other oil majors.

The Only Option

Which leaves only public pressure and government action. Oil companies do care about governments do. Governments control exploration licences – hence the logic of BOGA.  And they control tax, which can determines profits.

During the Brent Spar campaign about disposal of redundant oil industry infrastructure, the CEO of Shell UK told me that he was trapped and couldn’t change course because of government policy – by which he mainly meant UK tax rules. It was only the intervention of Shell International as result of reputational damage and European government threats, which forced (or enabled) him to do so.

A significant problem at least in the UK was that oil companies saw the government as more powerful than them, and politicians saw the oil industry as more powerful.  An oil company executive privately explained to Greenpeace “Once we get the signal from government that renewables are more profitable [as decided by tax rules] than oil or gas, that’s what we will do.” But the signal never came.

The politicians did not see it as their role to make renewables cheaper than fossil fuels, and did not understand what oil industry forecasters did understand, that technology learning curves would at some point, make new renewable technologies cheaper than fossil fuels.

So it is the governments of COP who must act.  Then the UNFCCC – and others – will have the political space to organise a phase out.  COP however can send a signal.

A ‘Steerage’ Proposal

The anti-tobacco health lobby is fond of this quote: “Tobacco is the only legally available consumer product which kills people when used entirely as intended”  Except that now could also be said about fossil fuels. They cause climate change and that’s killing people.

In 2003 the WHO established the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. It has since become one of the most rapidly and widely embraced treaties in United Nations history, so many Parties to climate COPs are already signatories.

Overtly or covertly, the fossil fuel lobby has always been in and around the UNFCCC but by COP26 it had become a major issue. The BBC’s Matt McGrath reported:

Campaign groups argue that the World Health Organization didn’t get serious about banning tobacco until all the lobbyists for the industry were banned from WHO meetings. They want the same treatment for oil and gas companies at COP.

“The likes of Shell and BP are inside these talks despite openly admitting to upping their production of fossil gas,” said Pascoe Sabido of the Corporate Europe Observatory …”. 

“If we’re serious about raising ambition, then fossil fuel lobbyists should be shut out of the talks.”

A useful paper by Rob Ralston and others in The Lancet notes: that ‘Article 5.3 is a general obligation of the FCTC that requires parties to protect public health policy making from tobacco industry interference’.

Before the 2023 talks on a UN Plastics Treaty in Nairobi, which are also attracting a huge lobbying effort by the oil industry, 170 organisations signed on to a letter to UNEP calling on it to protect the talks from fossil fuel interference on the same basis as the Tobacco Convention. The letter calls for an Accountability Framework, and states:

‘Limiting the influence of vested private interests has proven to have a positive impact on treaty outcomes. This was demonstrated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) when agreeing to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (UNFCTC). To prevent and address a conflict of interest between the tobacco industry and public health, the WHO instituted a firewall between the tobacco lobby and public health officials. Known as Article 5.3, it also comes with clear guiding principles on how to apply it. ‘

I agree that this is the approach also needed at the UNFCCC.  I suggest:

  1. Firewall the fossil fuel industry by keeping it from having any presence or role in setting targets, timetables, texts or policies adopted at Climate COPs. Isolate fossil fuel lobbyists from the navigational systems of the Convention with no access to the bridge of the ship COP. Keep them onboard but in the equivalent of the old fashioned Steerage Class for passengers on ships.  Make this easier by organising the the COPs, so that the negotiations are separated in time and space from the trade fairs and other satellite activities.
  2. As fossil fuel interests will, along with many others, be needed in the phase out of fossil fuels, establish separate meetings that take instructions from the navigational level, and sort out implementation, monitored and controlled by the Convention.
  3. Establish a Positive Vetting system for any evidence presented to any part of the Convention process, requiring it to be shown to be authored and financed independently of any interests responsible for or benefitting from emissions of climate pollution. To prevent use of cut-outs such as foundations with anonymous donors, finance should be positively confirmed in a similar way to how banks must comply with money-laundering legislation by requiring proof of source of funds.

This leaves open the issue of National Oil Companies owned by Parties.  One option would be to reconfigure the UNFCCC to recognize classes of Parties, as some trade treaties do (eg importers and exporters).

The UNFCCC would be more likely to adopt such an approach if national parliaments and governments started to adopt it themselves. Indeed, one reason the current civil society and media outrage over the infection of the Climate Convention by the fossil fuel lobby has relatively little traction with governments, is that they too have allowed the fossil lobby into their own decision making, not just meeting lobbyists but inviting them in through secondments from energy companies into government energy departments.

For NGOs, public campaigns aimed at elected representatives to push governments to firewall the influence of the fossil industry, would be an obvious way to start.

Changing Business as Usual

The underlying political challenge facing the Climate Convention is disrupting Business as Usual.  As national governments need to change if COPs and UNFCCC are to change, and if the tenuous reach of the COP process is to be strengthened and create a positive feedback of action between local national and global as Rodriguez hopes, this means disruption at a society level, not just in policy thinking.

Default political offers in developed countries are to maintain business as usual in terms of prosperity and well-being.  In countries like mine that has meant an expectation that people will go on getting richer in real terms, from one generation to the next.  The creeping realisation that this has not been the case for a while, was one of the factors behind the vote for Brexit, although Brexit itself has made the UK poorer still, especially, in real terms, for the young.

The market success of ‘sustainable investing’ of pensions has been predicated on the sales pitch that you can have much the same return on investment without doing damage to the planet, as you can with conventional investment. In their book  The Unsustainable Truth, investment managers David Ko and Richard Busellato argue convincingly that if that was ever true, it’s not now.  Funds under ‘responsible’ management are now so vast that there simply isn’t enough space or natural resource to make a return of say 10%.  1% would be more realistic (apparently in Japan 2-3% is considered reasonable).

Financing pensions and health systems is a chronic problem in many developed nations with ageing populations, Japan and the UK being just two examples.  These also tend to be countries with higher proportions of socially conservative Settlers, instinctively averse to change.  They are prone to support opposition to the very innovations, such as renewable energy which could actually leave us all healthier and better off, if change threatens to upend their established behaviours or local amenity.  Opposition to wind farms and new grid connections for instance.

Developing countries tend to have much younger populations with high proportions of Prospectors seeking the freedom to prove themselves successful. When faced with few local prospects, corruption and insecurity, these are the people most likely to become economic migrants, including because of climate change.  They seek to get to places like Europe, where significant immigration can trigger Settler fears, leading to nationalism and values polarisation.  

A combination of these and economic problems can lead politicians to push climate change down their list of priorities.  It may be an existential threat but is it the most urgent?  In my experience a triad of simple heuristics explain the making of many political decisions in democratic governments: is it easy (feasible), is it popular, and is it the most urgent (‘shooting the crocodile nearest the boat’).

Multiple studies show considerable levels of cynicism and despair about politics. “Vote for change” often actually seems to mean a vote for a change of who’s in charge, not what happens after the election. And the rich consistently seem to get richer.

Such feelings often mirror those about climate change. What can we do about it?  What will really make any difference?  Evidence shows that when people actually see change happening, they are more likely to try and join in and emulate it, and demand it because it is available. Domestic solar pv is an example. If COP wants to connect, its programme needs to be relevant and visible on the ground.

So is there an angle or a fault line which aligns with the changes needed to tackle climate change, and which cuts through these BaU business as usual dysfunctions?

Disrupt BAU For The Rich

The best option looks to me to be to disrupt business as usual for the rich, starting with the very rich. Their lives are hyper mobile compared to the rest of the population, more able to escape the effects of climate change.  Normal people do not enjoy the benefits of tax havens, golden passports and private jets.

By the same token, the very rich tend to be super-high emitters of carbon.   Stockholm Environment Institute, The Guardian and Oxfam recently produced series of good reports on ‘The Great Carbon Divide’, noting thatthe richest 1% produce more carbon pollution than the poorest 66% of the world population.  So they are not responsible for all the problem, only most of it.

UNESCO’s latest World Inequality Report shows that nations have become richer but governments poorer (and so less able to do what’s needed), inequalities have increased most at the very richest end of income distribution, and it states: ‘our data [including gender inequality] shows that these inequalities are not just a rich vs. poor country issue, but rather a high emitters vs low emitters issue within all countries’.

So it seems to me that XR, Greenpeace, economist Thomas Pikkety and other campaigners are on the right track in targeting private aviation.   Start there and once private jets are banned, work down into corporate frequent flying.  If everyone was given an annual budget for flying by national government, and that could be sold on if not used, it could also redistribute money from the richer, to the poorer. If aviation was additionally restricted to using proven negative carbon capture power technologies it could also become climate neutral.

Forbes magazine reports that Schiphol Airport in The Netherlands says private jets will ‘no longer be welcome’ from 2025.

The principle should be to disrupt the rich, and highest emitters first and most, and to target benefits at the bottom two thirds, starting with the least well off.   Ironically this personalisation of carbon responsibility was of course first conceptualised in the Carbon Footprint by BP in 2004, as a way of distracting from corporate responsibility for climate change.

Hitting the carbon emitting activities of the rich would show that governments mean business, and real change is possible.  It hardly needs saying that many elected politicians are themselves very rich, and nobody should arrive at a COP by private jet.

[1] There are many reports and studies on technology disruptions, S curves and the implications of exponential growth. See for instance The Breakthrough Effect: How To Trigger A Cascade of Tipping Points To Accelerate The Net Zero Transition  (SystemIQ, University of Exeter, Bezos Earth Fund January 2023); Nafeez M Ahmedin https://ageoftransformation.org/energyphasetransition/ on Tony Seba’s 2014 book Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation; and  Octopus Energy blog citing Ray Kurzweil of Google on falling solar costs and exponential growth, in “The Law of Accelerating Returns” in  2011, at  https://octopus.energy/blog/growth-solar-power/; and Carbon Tracker’s 2021 Spiralling Disruption, https://carbontracker.org/reports/spiralling-disruption/

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‘Get Norfolk Greener’: A Small Experiment In Localising A Climate Campaign

‘Get Norfolk Greener’: A Small Experiment In Localising A Climate Campaign

Long blog: pdf here

Tiktoks by the UEA student campaign Get Norfolk Greener

Earlier this year I worked with a class of 28 third year University of East Anglia (UEA) students on a group project in which they created and ran a short campaign – ‘Get Norfolk Greener’ – which localised the climate and energy propositions of a national campaign backed by 40 voluntary organisations.   While for the students it was first and foremost an exercise in learning-by-doing,  the element of localisation can make many campaigns more ‘real’ and tractable for a wider range of audiences (especially Settlers and Prospectors), and might be relevant to a number of change efforts.

At least in the UK, localisation to Parliamentary Constituency level may be vital to building a resilient and durable base of support, not just to achieve objectives but to conserve and consolidate gains.  In a post last year, I argued that to tackle the impacts of intensive agriculture, nature campaigns need to be resourced and organised at the Constituency level (just as the farming lobby is).   My experience of working on recent nature and climate/ energy campaigns is that this is still sorely needed in the UK, with many campaigns overly reliant on national public opinion and social media.

The national campaign the UEA students localised is Warm This Winter, whose objectives include access to cheap renewable energy, help with energy bills and upgrading homes with heat pumps and insulation.  The very need for the WtW campaign in 2023 is at least partly due to previous failures to convert public support into durable consolidated gains and groups of constituents confident to make the case with MPs.

The Need To Anchor Gains

Any campaign can make progress when it runs with the winds of public opinion in its sails, and those winds carry also along a flotilla of politicians, the media and corporates. The trickier test comes when it encounters significant headwinds.  Fairweather friends may fall away, and forward progress may be reversed if the tides and currents run against you.  This is why campaign groups need an engine which does not depend on favourable winds (usually paying supporters), and to put down anchors against backsliding (eg social or legislative).

The UK’s most successful climate campaign was Friends of the Earth’s ‘Big Ask’ campaign in 2005 – 2008 [see analysis here and here].   Fortuitous competition between the main parties to look green before a General Election swept the campaign to victory and, unusually, success was consolidated in law, in the shape of the 2008 Climate Change Act.  That statute imposes a legal duty on UK Governments to set and meet carbon reduction budgets to bring about a 80% cut in emissions by 2050.    So far it’s acted as an anchor stopping the UK from drifting backwards on climate but it hasn’t prevented significant climate obstruction.

The greatest success for obstructers of action on climate in the UK came between 2010 and 2015.  Right-wing Eurosceptic and climate-sceptic Conservative MPs exploited Prime Minister David Cameron’s small majority and forced him to U-turn on supporting for onshore wind energy.  Cameron declared he would get rid of the “green crap”, and defunded household insulation programmes, despite having the worst housing stock in Europe.

The Sun, 21 November 2013

In 2019 I tried to find out how exactly this had happened, given that UK public opinion had remained overwhelmingly in support of wind power throughout.  When nobody seemed able to tell me, I looked into it myself – detailed in the blog Killing The Wind Of England.  A critical factor was that while NGOs and the renewables industry had won the ‘air war’ of national public opinion, they had failed to turn this expressive support for wind power into instrumental political support at a local level.   There was no social ‘anchor’ in the form of an established lobby at the local level, which was where their opponents acted to manifest one. Consequently it didn’t take much in terms of opposition, to make it feel like a lot.

The UK’s geographic Parliamentary Constituencies and ‘first past the post’ election system makes its party politics particularly sensitive to a ground war of well-organised constituency-based lobbying.   In 2017 a long-running government tracker poll on wind found that just one person in a panel of 2000 was ‘strongly opposed’ to wind.  But such opposition was concentrated among Conservative Party members, and the anti-wind campaign was organised within the Party.  MPs were systematically bombarded with letters, emails and face to face visits from activists, as well as the threat that both members and MPs would defect to the more right wing UKIP Party.  One MP previously supportive of wind flatly refused to accept polling evidence on the grounds that it did not reflect his postbag.  By localising their campaign, the opponents of wind power flew under the radar of wind power’s supporters.

The ‘Green Crap’ Legacy

Cameron’s about face over green policies had a dramatic and lasting effect.  In 2012 the UK was upgrading homes a year with loft and cavity wall insulation at a rate of over two million a year.  By 2013 that plummeted 92% and 74%, and has never recovered.    This has had serious consequences, especially for poorer people struggling to pay for food and heat their homes. When gas prices spiked after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Simon Evans at Carbon Brief calculated that ‘cutting the green crap’ ten years before had added £2.5billion to British energy bills in 2022 (and more since).

Chart from CarbonBrief

Meanwhile the restrictions introduced to make it almost impossible to build onshore wind in England remain in place.  In 2023 it was found that despite being one of the windiest places in Europe, only two English wind turbines had been built in the past year, whereas Ukraine had managed 19 despite being at war.

The UK Government has just about managed to argue that it is still on course to meet its Climate Change Act commitments because of building windfarms offshore, and the statistical legacy of shutting down coal power.  However the same pattern of organising opposition to energy infrastructure as was adopted against wind turbines is now being applied to energy grids (pylons) and misinformation campaigns are being run against adoption of heat pumps.

Get Norfolk Greener

UEA offers a module in ‘Activist Campaigning’ from within its undergraduate courses in politics. For the past fifteen years it’s been run by Dr Ben Little but he asked me to fill in for him in 2023 while he was seconded to help direct the UEA Civic University (outreach) project. UEA is based in Norwich, in the English county of Norfolk.

Ben’s design of the module was built around some teaching (for which I used some of the campaign training content I use with NGOs) and a group project, which students would design and implement, with an assessment based on their reflection on their experience of doing the project.  We needed to find a project ‘client’ so I contacted half a dozen NGOs, looking for a campaign they already had or had in mind, to which a group of about 30 students might feasibly make a useful contribution, over a month or so’s preparation and three week’s implementation.

The energy and climate NGO Possible agreed to help and suggested we connect with Uplift and the Green Alliance which were organising a campaign for WarmThis Winter (WtW), a coalition of 40 mainly national NGOs* (of which Possible is one), ranging from environment and nature groups to energy-poverty and community organisations.

The WtW campaign ask was (and is) straightforward: individuals were invited to use an online form with a pre drafted letter to ask their MPs to sign a ‘Pledge’ which essentially committed then to do everything they could to encourage more government action on the energy and climate crisis.   It read:

“I pledge to help keep my constituents warm every winter by urging the Government to rapidly expand home retrofit schemes, support the swift deployment of homegrown renewables to speed up the net zero transition away from volatile fossil fuels, and provide further financial support to vulnerable households. I will work alongside Parliamentary colleagues to ensure the Government goes further to tackle the energy crisis at every available opportunity, including upcoming fiscal statements and the Energy Bill.” 

We set out to localise this ask, and work on securing the support of all nine Norfolk Westminster MPs, eight Conservative and one Labour.  By way of context most of Norfolk is rural, with one small city (Norwich, population 200,000) and relatively few towns.  A national survey found most of Norfolk is above average for ‘agreeableness’ meaning people tend to be ‘cooperative, friendly and trusting’, below average on ‘open-ness’ meaning they lean towards being ‘conventional, down-to-earth, and traditional’, and above average on ‘conscientiousness’ meaning they tend to be ‘self-disciplined, cautious, and compliant’ as well as socially conservative.

Not surprisingly, Norfolk can be slow to adopt innovations, and is often seen as a bit of a political backwater.  Many people living in Norfolk quite like its sense of relative isolation from the rest of the country.  It’s the sort of place where constituents often vote for MPs as individuals rather than by party.  I once asked a friend who was our local Mayor how the local elections had gone, and she said “not bad Chris but it all got a bit too political for my liking”.

Not then, perhaps, optimal political campaign territory, especially for one which had to be run in short order (teaching and preparation one day a week Feb – April, a month break and three weeks of implementation in May).  On the other hand the default assumption might have been that no MPs would respond to the WtW pledge campaign, or just one would (the South Norwich Labour MP, Clive Lewis, who had a long track record of being active on climate), so we had a default benchmark.

www.warmthiswinter.org.uk

The national WtW format used online resources to encourage individuals reached through participating organisations, to start and join local lobbying events, and contact their MPs asking them to sign up, by email, social media, face to face or phone.  WtW provided some good online training webinars from Uplift, 350, and Hope for the Future.  Experience suggests that the ‘usual suspects’ mobilised and aggregated by such formats tend to be a thin layer of high-agency Pioneers and so we hoped to use campaign design to make our campaign more accessible and relevant for more of the constituents of Norfolk MPs, and provide evidence that there are impacts they are concerned about, and solutions they support.  Here’s a couple of slides from an early briefing:

Students formed six Research Groups, on positive case studies (solutions that work, with relevant benefits), problems to stop or avoid, understanding our MPs as people, relevant voter attitudes, finding constituents willing to talk to MPs about problems or solutions, and work being done on problems or solutions, by local (District) councils.  These were then used to populate a website, social media posts and construct localised communications to the MPs, and to explain the campaign.

[It’s a convention that UK MPs are not obliged to respond to members of the public who are not Constituents.  Basically this means campaigns need to engage registered voters, not eg students registered to vote elsewhere.  Although MPs are expected to reply to constituents, in practice some do so rarely, especially to tiresome ‘usual suspects’ who contact them about nationally organised petitions and campaign asks.  During this campaign a number of Constituents of Richard Bacon, MP for South Norfolk, were reluctant to take part given that he rarely responded to them.  He was even subject to public criticism from his own local Conservative Party for being unresponsive].

Gathering content in the situation research phase

Students produced a ‘portfolio’ for each of the nine Constituencies, aiming to match three problem and three solution examples, with a constituent endorser/ messenger/ proponent for each.  [‘Finding people’ proved a slow process, not least because only one of the students had actually lived in Norfolk.  It was also disappointing, though after working on other UK local projects, not surprising, to find that NGOs involved with the WtW coalition were unable to help us find the minimum three constituents in each MP’s area.  This wasn’t because of a lack of goodwill, just not being organised that way, and in some cases channelling all their political work through their senior, staff which of course means that the MPs are not necessarily hearing from their voters].

How the elements of the portfolio were intended to combine in making the case for the Pledge to MPs.

How the Research Groups work applied

Students taking part in a Civic University community ‘Climate open Space’ event in Norwich, doing a bit of networking with  whoever turned up.

Comparing MPs positions to the WtW pledge asks

Researching Local Stories

Students investigating energy and climate problems at local level looked at nature and landscape and energy poverty.

It’s well known that the Norfolk coast is experiencing accelerated coastal erosion, flooding and saltwater intrusion as a result of climate change but other impacts are less well known.  In 2018 UEA research by Dr Jeff Price studied 834 species from Norfolk’s characteristic flora and fauna, to see what would happen if the average temperature was allowed to increase 2.C.  He found most of Norfolk’s bumble bees, larger moths and grasshopper species would die out, along with the Swallowtail Butterfly, only known in England from the Norfolk Broads, and many traditionally ‘common’ species such as Grey Partridge, Water Vole, Common Frog and Common Lizard could be lost.

Climate heating is leading to introduced species such as Alexanders displacing native flowers such as Bluebells which are adapted to cooler conditions.

Page from Get Norfolk Greener website, for S Norwich

Page from Councils section of the Get Norfolk greener website – Kings Lynn and west Norfolk Council covers the Constituency of James Wild MP and part of that of Liz Truss MP, and is one of the more active Councils in Norfolk on the climate and energy crises. Students surveyed national studies of local Councils, Climate Emergency declarations and subsequent actions, and made direct contacts. They found that Great Yarmouth appeared to have no climate plan at all.

Passiv Haus scheme in Norwich – overall practical climate action as a result of Council policies is at a very early stage compared to many parts of the UK.

One decarbonization expert told me the County was about a decade behind the next-door county of Suffolk, and a further ten years behind cities like Manchester.

Energy Poverty

To show the basic facts about energy poverty in each Constituency, the campaign used figures from the group End Fuel Poverty which break down to local levels. Students also reserached more personal local stories.

Energy poverty stats for Great Yarmouth – Constituency of Brandon Lewis

Voter Attitudes

The campaign drew on an accessible and relevant survey conducted by Survation for Renewable UK in 2022 on voter attitudes to forms of renewable energy and the attitudes of politicians to renewables.

Unlike most national surveys which poll about 2000 people, this involved over 6000 and so could be broken down to Constituency level.

Broadland page of Get Norfolk Greener website, showing attitudes of voters in Jerome Mayhew’s Constituency.     (Contrary to the assumptions of many politicians, this and other polling shows most Conservative voters are more not less enthusiastic about renewable energy than Labour voters).

The political geography of Norfolk.

Campaign Name

Once the research was finished, the campaign needed a name that would ideally sound ‘normal’, sum up what it was for and trying to do, and relate to locality (identity – weighted to Settler but not excluding to others).   Students used these functional cues to brainstorm possible names.

In 15 minutes the students came up with these names: Green Norfolk Nine, Get Norfolk Greener, Warm Up the Pledge, Norfolk Climate Action, Heat Norfolk’s Homes, Pledge Against Poverty, UEA Student Pledge,Norfolk Student Pledge, Give Truss The Trust, Norfolk Students Warm This Winter, Climate Action in Norfolk, UEA Action For Norfolk Energy, End Fuel Poverty in Norfolk, Keep Norfolk Warm This Winter,Norfolk MP Pressure Group, Chris & The Cool Kids, The Student’s Pledge To Save The hedge, The Student’s Pledge to Give Norfolk The Environmental Edge.

There are pros and cons to all of these.   Immediately after that session we had a talk on how local councils work from Felix Brueggemann, Communications Officer for North Norfolk District Council and asked him what he thought.  “Three word names are popular” he said, tapping ‘Get Norfolk Greener’.  So we adopted that.

Felix Brueggemann of NNDC

Logo

Students developed a logo for the campaign following similar principles to the name.  It wanted to say ‘place’ (identity) and ‘green’.  A map of Norfolk was tried, a long with a green tree but the map of Norfolk is not very recognizable and the campaign was not about tree planting.  In the end it was based on the road signs you see when entering Norfolk, a ‘you are here’.

The Plan

Above: overview of how the campaign design localised the WtW pledge: framing it as a local campaign, and bringing that to Constituency level with messengers and evidences.

Campaign Launch

For logistical reasons and because we hoped to to engage some of the 3,700 staff, 4,000 post-grad researchers and 12,000 undergraduate students at UEA, the campaign was launched at a (pre-existing) ‘Green Day’ held at SIZ, the UEA Student Information Zone.

Students made a flier with a QR code linking to the website and social media.  After considering free coffee as an incentive to other attract students, the team chose animals because so many students miss contact with pets or wildlife.  The campaign paid a local animal rescue charity (Wild Touch) to attend with animals used to meeting people, attracting crowds to talk to.

Realising that a lot of people were still walking past, two students found a small whiteboard and turned it into a stop-and-talk device, in the shape of an instant opinion survey.  This led to several deeper conversations and local stories, together with the insight that many students didn’t know what an ‘energy crisis’ or ‘energy poverty’ actually meant.

Re-Purposing The Affordable Energy Calculator

As part of the national WtW campaign, Greenpeace, working with Cambridge Econometrics, had produced an online Affordable Energy Calculator.

With the answers to a few simple questions about any home, this neatly converted the complicated and techy question of upgrading homes with heat pumps and insulation into a simple, personalised results in money terms.

Greenpeace agreed to let students repurpose the Calculator.  They set out to visualise the results of householders willing to use it as a way to send a message to their MP, which could also be shared with local and social media.

Stimulus from an ideas generation session on using visual language to combine householder, saving money and their home to personalise and visualise the Affordable Energy Calculator.  Students considered various ways to say ‘savings’ or ‘more money’ in visual terms, and what emotion should be conveyed (eg angry, hopeful, cross, celebratory etc).

Candidate visuals included a piggy bank and a presentation cheque (above) but they opted for a changeable Estate Agents’ type sign, retaining the Greenpeace colours and ‘shouting out’ to the MP.

This could turn the act of using of an online App into a publicly visible if micro real-life public event, on the archetypal ‘doorstep’.

Sign design on a student’s computer for use by bill payers outside their homes

Broadland Constituent Sophie, in Fakenham, holding an Affordable Energy Calculator sign calling for MP support.  After a bit of experimentation, students opted for the handmade changeable £ numbers, mimicking changeable signs on cars in used car lots (at the suggestion of our printers).  

Instagram posts. Lydia from NR14 south-east of Norwich, and her large poorly insulated house with a huge potential saving.  

Outside Norwich City Council offices – article in East Anglia Bylines

The campaign was covered in several local radio interviews

MP Sign-Ups

During the 19 days from the campaign launch to the end of the module, the campaign succeeded in holding one face to face video meeting, with Duncan Baker, Conservative MP for North Norfolk.  During the call he agreed to sign the Pledge, becoming the fourth Conservative MP to do so (of 47 MPs nationally to date).  Duncan Baker is a member of the Conservative Environmental Network and a member of the UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee.

‘Thumbs up’ as Duncan Baker MP backs the Pledge

As well as students, the call was joined by local resident and businessman Matt Higham, who runs a Deli in Wells next the Sea.  He described how high temperatures in 2022 had forced his shop to shut because the refrigeration system could not cope, and called for more rapid action against climate heating.

Duncan Baker said: “I am delighted to sign this pledge because it is so important to create a cleaner and greener future for generations to come. I also wholly agree in doing all we can to retrofit our housing stock to help keep households warm every winter. From small changes we can do ourselves to larger actions within governments we need to continue investing in sustainable and renewable forms of energy”.

Later the same day, Clive Lewis, the Labour MP for South Norwich also signed the WtW Pledge, saying  “Glad to sign this pledge from @ThisWinterUK and @GetNorfolkGreen. My Energy Equity Bill demands a rapid expansion of retrofitting and a universal energy allowance. I am very proud to see this student-led campaign fighting for energy equity in Norfolk”.

From Get Norfolk Greener social posts

Jerome Mayhew MP wrote to a Constituent explaining the reasons he would not sign the pledge, while Chloe Smith, MP for Norwich North, issued a statement explaining why she would not be signing “for now”.

Five Constituents wrote to NW Norfolk MP James Wild but despite several follow up messages, no reply was received.  Constituents also wrote to Richard Bacon and Brandon Lewis but received no response. The campaign was unable to find Constituents to write to Liz Truss and George Freeman.

Both Freeman and Bacon were involved with a campaign against electricity pylons to carry power from offshore wind energy to connect with the National Grid, through their Constituencies.  George Freeman and Chloe Smith both had Government Ministerial jobs at the time (the usual UK Government convention is that Ministers do not support non-governmental campaigns, although in practice they do manage it if it suits their purposes).

Conclusions

Get Norfolk Greener was a student learning process and neither a test of a model for NGO campaigns nor a test of the student’s abilities by results.

Achieving two MP sign-ups was better than might have been expected and as many of the students commented in their reflections, has we started active campaign earlier, had the long Easter holiday not existed, and had we gone on longer, we could have achieved more.  Sentiments many readers may have encountered in professional campaign evaluations.  They also identified the need to build up a stable of social media post material in advance and the missing local events in Constituencies.

One major disappointment was our general failure to effectively utilise the community of UEA (some 3,700 staff and 4,000 postgrads as well as 12,000 undergrads) as a ‘pool to fish from’ to find Constituents (and then their friends or neighbours).  There are a number of reasons why this may have been the case.

Perhaps the toughest job fell to the students researching the attitudes and activities of District Councils. They accumulated a lot of information and intelligence and made some useful 1-1 contacts but were not helped by the May 4 Local Elections which distracted Councils and prevented Officers from making any public statements, which I should have anticipated.  If the project had gone on longer and we had succeeded in running at least one event in each Constituency, bringing together MPs with Councillors and the public could have been very useful.  As it was the Affordable Energy Calculator home visits turned out to work well and absorbed a lot of the available time.

In my opinion Get Norfolk Greener’s work probably meant WtW achieved more than it otherwise would have done in Norfolk.  One rather obvious reason for that is that although the national WtW coalition is in theory impressively large, only a small proportion of the organisations behind seemed to be actively engaged on the ground, as opposed to sharing asks online.  Fewer still seem to be able (or ready?) to turn out members, supporters or other contacts willing and able to engage with their MPs as Constituents.

There may be many reasons for this but perhaps especially in the case of issues that affect land in rural areas, it puts them at a disadvantage compared to interest groups such as the NFU (National Farmers Union), long seen as the most effective lobby in Westminster politics.   (As discussed in previous posts on intensive farming and Bovine TB in cattle and badgers here and here, the NFU is assiduous in encouragingindividual farmers to act as messengers and engage face-to-face with political processes).

NFU post encouraging farmers to join the Boards controlling National Parks in 2023. Of course it’s right to have some farmers on such Boards but they are often over-represented and National Parks are not supposed to be farm-parks.  Agricultural intensification is still taking place in the UK’s ‘National Parks’, to the detriment of nature, amenity and ecosystem function.

As to climate and energy, the 2010-15 situation documented in Killing The Wind Of England has changed – now for example there is an organised green group – Conservative Environment Network (CEN) – amongst Conservative MPs with over 150 MP members and 500 Councillors.  Duncan Baker who signed the WtW Pledge is one but so is Jerome Mayhew who didn’t, and George Freeman who is now a CEN ‘alumnus’.   On the other hand, the Conservative ‘Net Zero Scrutiny Group’ of about 20 – 30 MPs, ex MPs, Lords and political supporters formed in 2021, has been actively lobbying to obstruct progress in ending use of fossil fuels, and shares members and and has many ties with the same political network that forced Cameron into the ‘Green Crap’ reversal.  They are very unrepresentative of public opinion in the UK, including amongst Conservative voters but may be more cohesive and determined than CEN – it’s hard to tell.

At any event, there is much to be gained by the proponents of pro-environmental action organising to have a more effective ground game.  In the case of Get Norfolk Greener, although we were admittedly an unknown quantity, despite contacting NGOs, we struggled to find three Constituents in each of nine Constituencies, who were prepared to sign a letter asking to meet with their MP.

So, how ambitious would it be for national NGOs to set up a reliable pool of say six people in each Westminster Constituency prepared to meet with their MPs to press the environmental case at a Constituency level?

There are 650 UK Westminster Constituencies.  650 x 6 = 3,900 people.  The average number of voters per Constituency is 74,000.  Six would be 0.008% of the Constituents.  Not a very large proportion.

In his recent book Reflections former RSPB executive Mark Avery argues that the much quoted nominal 7m combined memberships of conservation NGOs in the UK probably actually represents about 500,000 individuals but that is still a large number.

If Mark Avery is right and the real number of ‘committed wildlife conservation supporters’ is about 500,000, finding 3,900 committed enough to meet their MP when needed would mean persuading 0.78% of them.

But of course there are other people who might ‘strongly agree’ that their MP should act on a cause they care about – in WtW’s case for example, the agenda is much broader than just that of environment groups.  In reality, building such representation is also not just about asking people who are paying supporters of cause NGOs.  In the case of Get Norfolk Greener some of those who did contact their MPs did so because I know them as friends, and I asked.  The same was true of some of the friends of students.  Activating those strong social bonds cannot be done just through mailing lists and social media.

And it’s true that in some of the national UK NGOs there are people whose job is to organise in this way, although not always with contacting MPs in mind.  Plus there are often just one or two of them, far fewer than devoted to other tasks.  Some national NGOs make a virtue of working closely with the many existing (and new) local campaign groups at the ‘grass roots’, which is a good thing so far as it goes but it can be a very lop-sided relationship, where the volunteer locals gradually burn out as they are left to do too much of the groundwork, especially in evenings and at weekends, with little or no access to the resources of the established NGOs which have been accumulated through marketing and fundraising.

I don’t know how true this is in other countries but in the UK at least it seems to me that one reason there is such a gap between public opinion on issues like climate change, and the actions of politicians, is that the expressed opinion captured in polling or manifest online is not sufficiently expressed face to face.

It’s long been said said that “all politics is local” and that remains true, even when it comes to tackling global issues like climate change.

Thanks Due

The UEA Activism project had useful ‘remote’ support from Uplift, Green Alliance, End Fuel Poverty Coalition and the Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT), and collaborated with the Greenpeace group in Norwich on the Affordable Energy Calculator home visits.   Nick Acheson, an Ambassador for NWT spoke to students about nature in Norfolk, John and Rory Scott of KSBR gave an introduction to the techniques of qualitative research, John Tully of UEA ran a session on project management, Dr Jeff Price shared his research, and Jenny Kirk organised interview practice with  UEA Broadcast Journalism students.  Thanks to them all and the UEA Broadcast House facilities team without whom I would have thoroughly failed on IT.  Finally thanks to all the students, who taught me a lot.

Some of the UEA 2023 Activist Campaigning module students

A qualitative research training session with KSBR

UEA wrote up the project here

***

Given the effort invested in creating the WtW coalition, I  suspect it’s likely to continue in some form until the next UK General Election, and will try to build on that bridgehead of 47 MPs.

*The groups being: 350.org, 38 Degrees, ACRE – Action With Communities in Rural England, Ashden, Bioregional, CPRE, The Countryside Charity, Centre for Sustainable Energy, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, Chartered Institute of Housing, Citizens UK, ClientEarth, Climate Cymru, Debt Justice, End Fuel Poverty Coalition, Fair Energy Campaign, Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Fuel Poverty Action, Global Action Plan, Global Witness, Green Alliance, Green Christian,Greenpeace UK, High Peak Green New Deal, Hope For The Future, Hope Valley Climate Action,Intergenerational Foundation, Islamic Relief, Make My Money Matter, Moorlands Climate Action, NEON, New Economics Foundation, Northern Housing Consortium, Operation Noah, Oxfam GB, Parents for Future UK, Possible, RSPB, Save the Children, Stand As One, The Climate Coalition, The Wildlife Trusts, Uplift, WWF UK, We Care Campaign, Women’s Institute

Chris Rose

Contact: chris@campaignstrategy.co.uk (the opinions expressed above are my own and not necessarily shared by UEA or any of its staff or students).

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Revolution In Taliban Alley

This blog introduces four chapters of an essay on nature and farming inspired by Jake Fiennes’ 2022 book Land Healer.

Left: Taliban Alley, right, Great Farm a few miles away after Restorative Farming

Chris Rose, September 2022

‘Taliban Alley’ is the not very PC name given to a country-road not far from where I live, in Norfolk, England. It was coined by Jake Fiennes, in Land Healer: How Farming Can Save Britain’s Countryside. The farmland in Taliban Alley is a scene of agri-desolation caused by intensive farming.  It contrasts with what Fiennes has achieved on similar land, a few miles far away.

A former game-keeper, Australian sheep ranch hand and London night club PR, Fiennes is a scion of an old landed-gentry family now best known for movie roles played by his actor brothers Ralph and Joseph.  But don’t judge him by that.  In my view Jake Fiennes has done something rather more important.

Fiennes has shown by deeds not words how the ecological sterilisation caused by agricultural intensification can be put into reverse, not by taking whole farms out of production but by changing agricultural practice within farms, by farmers.  His work on East Anglian estates has brought birds and plants back to working farms long hammered by chemical agriculture, while maintaining economic viability.  The UK’s mainstream nature and countryside groups need to join the revolution in Taliban Alley.

‘Revolutionizing’

Not surprisingly, his book is making waves in UK farming and conservation circles.  It’s been described as ‘radical’ as it can actually be delivered (in relatively short order), and ‘revolutionizing’, because of the implications.  For anyone who cares about nature and biodiversity, and indeed food-security, water-quality or climate change, the implications are huge.

‘Taliban Alley’ gets its name from Fiennes’ moniker for bad-farming: ‘Taliban Farming’, which he defines as farming that kills everything which it does not want. Mostly that means with ‘pesticides’, such as insecticides, fungicides and herbicides, and where they don’t do the trick, pollution by artificial fertiliser.  This is not just an English or even a British problem, it’s the unsustainable model exported around the world by agri-business and the agrochemicals industry after World War Two.  In other words, ‘conventional farming’ based on max-input max-output.

The 3Rs

In the UK Fiennes has become something of a poster-boy for a loosely defined new agricultural revolution, not that the adherents see themselves that way.  It brings together the ‘3Rs’ of Regenerative Farming, Rewilding and Restorative Farming, the latter being on-farm restoration of nature (Fiennes’ particular focus).

Groundswell – see Chapter 1

Events such as Britain’s Groundswell agricultural conference and festival are bringing together these often overlapping communities. Land Healer sold out within hours at this year’s Groundswell.   Yes there are risks of greenwash and free-riders but the opportunity is considerable, and in my opinion, historic.  Fiennes’ work has revolutionary potential because it comes from within, not outside farming.

Britain’s Long Good-Bye To Nature

Outside (top) and inside Winks Meadow, Suffolk, a diminutive Wildlife Trust nature reserve and remnant of what was and what could be (see Chapters 2 and 4)

In a parochial UK perspective, we now live in one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. Intensive farming is the main reason.  Between them the nature and countryside NGOs have eight million members, over a tenth of the population:  most of their supporters are voters, all are consumers, the majority are investors.  Dozens of concerned UK NGOs have charted the decline of countryside nature over generations but have not stopped it.  There has never been a national campaign to do so, indeed there have been few individual campaigns.

In campaign-design terms, UK conservationists have failed to divide farming into good and bad, and thus failed to triangulate the issue into one where ‘good farmers’ and ‘bad farmers’ argue in a three-cornered fight while others represent the public interest.  As a result, the mainstream agri-business lobby has maintained a monopoly in representing farming in politics and the media, and NGOs have lacked the most basic campaign ingredients, the problem and the solution .

At the same time, dwindling cultural connection to nature has rendered even the environmentally-concerned public blind to the difference between nature-rich countryside and green but sterile cropland.  So there is no on-the-ground constituency to engage, organise and mobilise in a political ground war.  Which could and should be changed.

Taliban Alchemy

Fiennes’ cheerful identification of nature-annihilating farmers as ‘the Taliban’ provides a binary frame distinguishing bad and good farming, problem and solution: communications alchemy which opens a Pandora’s Box of potential.

The road to Taliban Alley near my home in North Norfolk 

‘Taliban Alley’ is just one locational example of ‘bad’, and Great Farm up the road is an example of the ‘good’ but there are more Taliban Alleys and examples of the opposite, all over the country.  This communications gift opens the way to construction of campaigns which British NGOs have long tried but failed to create, or deliberately avoided because they were self-inhibited.

For decades the main UK nature and countryside NGOs worked on the assumption that the best route to influencing what happened the 70-80% of UK land which is farmed, was to promote examples of ‘good farming’ by ‘good farmers’.  Their example would gradually inspire others to do likewise. It made some progress but was ultimately a failed strategy.  It recruited perhaps 2-5% of farmers.

By the same logic, and because the largest were themselves land-managing organisations, the NGOs set on maintaining ‘credibility’ and good relations with ‘farming’ as a whole rather than ‘good farming’.  They effectively handed over the test of their legitimacy to the farming lobby.

No Line In The Sand

To stay within the tent of conventional farming the major NGOs eschewed endorsement of alternative approaches such as organic farming.  The price was an inability to draw a line in the sand, and say this or that farming practice is unacceptable.

The only exceptions were illegality and outright destruction of significant areas of wildlife habitats.  By the end of the 1980s there weren’t many such places left to convert to intensive farming.  The NGOs focused on doing what they could do protect the remnants, amounting to 5 – 8% of the land, well below the 16% or so estimated to be necessary to sustain nature.  It’s expanding but oh, so slowly.

A focus on places (sites), and the creation of nature reserve networks which were good in themselves and which pleased their members, meant that most NGOs did not engage with what was happening on farmland, which was a wipe-out of birds, insects, plants and wildlife across the landscape, largely driven by pesticides (see Chapter 3).

Data from the ‘Common Bird Census’, later refined as the Farmland Birds Index, showed that most of the birds present in 1970 had simply vanished by the second decade of the C21st.  This happened not so much through big-chunk ‘habitat destruction’ as a fine-grained thinning of the natural fabric within farms, including through every intensifying use of chemicals, a subject all the larger NGOs avoided until very recently.

England’s countryside looks green but …

Most birds disappeared (see Chapter 2)

From the 1990s onwards the NGOs invested hope in AES or Agri-Environment Schemes funded by the EU and government. Eventually they covered the majority of farmland yet the majority of birds still disappeared.  This comfort-blanket of hope further stifled ignition of campaigns.

UK AES schemes (as of 2012) – a complex layer of sticking plasters which overall,  failed (see Chapter 2).

By 2013-19 the NGOs got together to produce detailed reports itemising this ecological catastrophe in State of Nature reports (see Annexe).  But whereas they promoted exemplar good farmers, the ecological wipe-out was represented only in statistics, with very limited emotional resonance.  As Stalin famously pointed out, when one man dies it is a tragedy, when a million die, that’s just statistics. The UK conservation formula has been to show the good through human examples, and the bad through anonymous statistics, and that fails.

Stalin

I explore these and other themes in four parts of an essay on Land Healer, nature and farming in the UK:

  1. The Significance of Land Healer
  2. An Historic Failure To Protect Nature
  3. How Pesticides Ran Amok
  4. Where To Go Now

& Annexe – State of Nature

Proposals

Part Four makes proposals which in summary are:

Local Resourcing and Organisation.  NGOs need to run a ground war campaign and that requires local logistics and assets including people familiar with farming and agrochemicals and resourcing as serious as that given to land management or fundraising.

Nature Ability.  The UK needs national campaigns of public education in Natural History (aka ecological literacy),  so enough people have the ability to discern the detail of nature to form an effective political constituency. Show people polar opposite examples.

Set up Taliban Farming Demonstrations.  As the (good farming) 3Rs begin to take effect we need to demonstrate bad farming, and having their own ‘Taliban Alley’ examples could enable NGOs fearful of farmer conflict to to show that without annoying individual farmers.

Taliban Geography.  To create public conversations from which specific campaigns could emerge, go out and map good and bad farming at a Parish level: Taliban through to Restorative.

Develop the Practitioner Lexicon.  Systematize and give names to the steps involved in Restorative Farming as described in Land Healer, such as  ‘hedge fattening’, to enable the public to recognize and appreciate good farming, and enable farmers to be recognized and rewarded.  Create a Farm Nature Code equivalent to the Highway Code.

A New Social Enterprise.  Work with 3R farmers and landowners, private investors, food retailers, the catering and hospitality industry, and NGO supporters, to develop business of certified, branded retail outlets supplying nature friendly food. Be a business voice not just an external commentator.

Enable Stake holding in 3R Farming. Trial and introduce a system of private Countryside Contracts in which individuals finance good farming in return for access and agreed influence.

Agrochemical Free Buffer Zones. Campaign for a legal requirement for Regenerative/ Restorative/ Organic farming of up to 2km around all Nature Reserves and Protected Areas and make it mandatory across farmed areas of National Parks and AONBs.

Rewild BTB Hotspots. Campaign for the withdrawal of the most persistent problematic BTB (bovine TB) areas from livestock farming. (BTB is a long running UK policy failure).

Open Up The Policy Community.  Democratize representation of farming to government by requiring Ministers not just to consult the NFU (National Farmers Union) on policy but consult the full range of farming, environmental and civil society organisations.

Reward Everyone Who Helps Nature.  Campaign to democratize the use of public money for nature (public goods) so it is not restricted by ‘eligibility rules’ based on agricultural holdings but on outcomes. There in no natural justice in paying a farmer if s/he produces two Song Thrushes where there was one before, and not a householder with a garden.

Treat Farming Like Other Industries. Licence chemical farming by activity and location.  Set environmental quality targets based on a return to 1947 levels of ecological health.  Impose planning or other controls on any activities producing or likely to produce significant harm.

**

Part Four also covers recent developments which could be built on to build campaigns that join the 3Rs revolution.

***

 

The dramatic contrast between ‘Taliban farming’ outside Winks Meadow and the interior ancient hay meadow – a brief visit in midsummer 2022 as a thunderstorm arrived.  As Jake Fiennes said out to me at Great Farm, it’s the contrast between Taliban Farming and rich nature which enables people to ‘really get’ it.

A Campaign Strategy Ltd Blog.  Contact Chris Rose

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Leadership In The Anthropocene: new book chapter

Andrew Taylor of Connect CEE and the NGO Transilvania Executive Education has edited a new book Rethinking Leadership For a Green World (Routledge/ Taylor and Francis).

Pat Dade and I contributed a chapter which summarises what we know of change dynamics and leadership through a values lens: Values and Leadership in the Anthropocene.

One of our main conclusions is that leadership on responding to issues such as climate change will require respect for the diversity of motivational values.  Values-projection by a Pioneer vanguard can backfire, as if conflicts over change polarise along values lines, they will slow or stop the uptake of necessary social change and new behaviours.  Once values splits arise, they can threaten social cohesion and prevent rather than catalyse change.  We discuss examples such as Brexit and how Pat’s Values Modes model relates to the work of other researchers such as Inglehart, Haidt and Schwarz.

I’ve made an author’s proof of our chapter available for free here.

There are a lot of interesting perspectives and insights in Andrew’s collection, such as The Weaponisation of Climate Change by Elesa Zehndorfer of Roehampton Business School.

 

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Now That’s Interesting

Last month I saw a story on Twitter that made me think “that’s a great idea for a movie plot”: an ‘inciting incident’ from which a story unfolds.

 

Bird researchers had fitted a GPS tracker to an Oystercatcher, a coastal wading bird. First it flew from it’s home near Dublin to the island of Sanday in the Orkneys, north of Scotland.

That was not unusual but then something strange happened.   It embarked on a tour of the UK, again not unusual in itself but this time, instead of visiting rocky coastlines, sandy bays or wildlife reserves, it frequented a campsite, a pizza restaurant and a street in Ealing, west London.  And from its new base in the London suburbs it was reporting on its whereabouts, every two hours.

Surmising that an unsuspecting tourist had probably found the device on a beach and picked it up (they are designed to fall off after a time and be recovered), the scientists went public, offering a reward for its return.

via BBC

My point for campaign designers is that this created an interesting story.  Your campaign is more likely to ‘work’ and ‘have legs’ in social or other media if it’s interesting.  As journalist Mike McCarthy once pointed out, most campaigns are about something significant but few are interesting, which is why news editors often do not cover them.

So think through your campaign as if you were making a movie.  Story-board it. What comes first?    Try to find a way to create the inciting incident which grabs attention and wants the audience to know more. It doesn’t have to be the very first step in a multi-step campaign, it applies to any important staging post or ‘beat’ in the story of the campaign.

This usually means you have to do-something to make it interesting. Something unusual, surprising, unexpected or strange, or involving a protagonist already of great interest to a target audience, or breaking a record, setting a precedent, recalling a much loved significant moment (significant for the audience): there are lots of ways to be interesting.

What’s Happening?

That’s why Twitter, essentially a news channel, prompts you with “what’s happening ?”  Not (despite the mass of tweets which do just this) “what are you thinking?”.   Unless you are incredibly powerful or influential, our opinions are not interesting in themselves, campaign groups included.

Nor does just being about an ‘important issue’ make a campaign interesting. Indeed if it is recognized as ‘an issue’ – a matter of contested opinion – that almost signals the opposite: this is probably complicated, esoteric and with no resolution.

If you want to know what happened next to the GPS tag, check out the BBC story.  But why would might you want to know?  Because it’s an unfinished story.  We don’t know the outcome or the consequences.

If the thing that happens has an obvious conclusion, or you are told the ending by the campaigners, that usually kills the story: there is no drama. Which is why the whole of the campaign plan (your intended story plot) should not be communicated at the start of the campaign but revealed, Scene by Scene and Act by Act, through the things you make happen.

from YouTube

The GPS tag story illustrates one other point which some readers are probably very familiar with.  The tag is a ‘thing’, it’s the grit in the oyster of the story.  Movie makers call such objects a MacGuffin, an object on which the story hinges, like The Ring in Lord of the Rings.  If you can provide one, so much the better.  It makes your story-making so much easier.  And this was a story not about all birds or even all Oystercatchers or why-the-researchers-were-doing-it but about one bird, one tag and one incident.

What’s that mean for campaign design?  Make each step as simple, restricted and binary as possible. Boil it down, crystallise reduce and reduce until it merits no more unpacking.  That will make it easier to achieve your immediate objective, whether you are at the stage of (1) generating awareness by showing the problem, (2) revealing the solution, (3) providing a way to engage, or (4) calling people to action

(If you have interesting campaign examples of a McGuffin or a campaign made interesting, please get in touch or tag me @campaignstrat on twitter.  See also: ‘be interesting’ in the case of a campaign by Friends of the Earth, and, selling a ‘big idea’; and why campaigners should be story-makers not just tellers).

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#Quick Wins To Reduce Carbon and Gas

In the UK there is an ongoing public discussion about the energy crisis precipitated by global ‘post covid’ gas demand, climate change and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  Both UK media and politicians persistently bracket renewable energy and ‘energy efficiency’ (by which they also mean insulation, or energy conservation) with ‘long term’ or ‘medium term’, rather than seeing them as things that can be done quickly.

In contrast they often talk about new oil or gas wells, or even nuclear power stations, as immediate choices or options. This flies in the face of evidence and probably reflects fossil fuel industry lobbying and simply out-of-date assumptions.

So although I don’t claim to be an energy expert I put together my own list of potential “quick wins’ to cut carbon and or gas.  (I’ve put this on twitter @campaignstrat) so if you want to put me right, that’s an opportunity. A longer version with the sources is here. See also E3G doc below.

Here it is:

more detail:

Twelve Quick Wins To Cut Gas and Carbon. chris@campaignstrategy.co.uk @campaignstrat

Examples   30 March 2022 with sources

  1. Insulation and renewable energy refurb for homes. Installation time: 1 – 10 days. In Maldon, Essex the Dutch-originated whole house ‘Energy Jump’ [Energiesprong] refurb system implemented by Moat Housing and Enegie cut home electricity use by 84%, eliminated gas and enabled homes to export surplus power (achieving negative carbon).

https://www.energiesprong.uk/projects/maldon

https://www.rapidtransition.org/stories/the-big-rebuild-one-week-zero-carbon-home-makeovers-setting-new-comfort-levels/

  1. Turn down house heating thermostat. Time to deploy: immediate. Turning down the thermostat 1.C will cut bills by about 10%. A comfortable temperature is often given as 18-21.C.

https://energysavingtrust.org.uk/advice/thermostats-and-heating-controls/

  1. Reduce flow temperature on condensing gas boilers. Time to deploy: immediate (or with visit by engineer). Can reduce bills 6-8%. (Reduced flow temperature reduces heat of water sent to radiators but not room temperature).

https://www.theheatinghub.co.uk/articles/turn-down-the-boiler-flow-temperature

  1. Loft insulation. Installation usually less than one day. Typically costs £4-600, saves £150/year (pre 2022 prices), with £250 labour (Checkatrade/ EST). Increases value of home by up to 16%.

https://www.checkatrade.com/blog/cost-guides/loft-insulation-cost/

  1. External wall insulation. Installation time 3 days. An Ayrshire 1920s bungalow reduced gas use by 27% and electricity 28% following external wall insulation.

https://www.energyagency.org.uk/area-based-schemes/solid-wall-insulation-case-studies

  1. Underfloor Insulation: Camden Council worked with Q-Bot to install underfloor insulation in 48 properties. Reduced heat loss by 77% (Time to deploy not stated)

https://q-bot.co/landlords/testimonials

  1. Stop Speeding. Time to deploy: immediate. An economical driving trial by AA staff cut weekly petrol/diesel fuel bills 10 – 33%. Driving at 70mph uses 9% more fuel than at 60mph. Driving at 80mph uses 25% more. 48% of motorway drivers exceed 70mph. 11% do 80mph (3.8m) so enforcing the speed limit would cut their fuel use 25%.

https://www.theaa.com/driving-advice/fuels-environment/drive-economically

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/812500/vehicle-speed-compliance-statistics-2018.pdf

  1. Tower block Refurbishment: 314 tower flats at Queens Cross, Glasgow built in 1969 were refurbished to cut energy use by 80%. One resident said “I haven’t switched on my heating for two years as there is just no need”. (Time taken unknown)

https://twitter.com/SustainableTall/status/1507639645148180481

https://www.glasgowlive.co.uk/news/glasgow-news/glasgow-man-hasnt-switched-heating-22165160

  1. Return UK national home insulation to 2012 levels. Time to deploy policy: immediate. 2012 installs ran at 2.3m a year before ‘cutting the green crap’ policy crashed it.  Homes installs of loft and cavity wall insulation plummeted  92% and 74% in 2013, and have never recovered. UK has worst insulated homes in Europe.

https://twitter.com/ECIU_UK/status/1505887989112659975

https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-cutting-the-green-crap-has-added-2-5bn-to-uk-energy-bills

  1. Remove policy block on Onshore Wind Farms. Time to deploy policy: immediate. Time to construct: weeks or months once permitted. 649 wind and solar farms already have planning permission, enough to offset UK Russian gas imports. Compare to 10 years for new nuclear, eg Hinkley Point started 2018, due completed 2027, maybe later.

https://twitter.com/DrSimEvans/status/1501649925783830531

https://twitter.com/DrSimEvans/status/1501652522813071367

https://inews.co.uk/news/lifting-onshore-wind-ban-cheapest-way-produce-renewable-power-1530936

https://www.carbonbrief.org/daily-brief/edf-adds-1-5bn-hinkley-nuclear-plant-bill-15-month-delay

  1. Solar pv electricity. Time to deploy: days for a small installation to 3 months for a solar farm. Large solar is now subsidy-free and renewable electricity can displace gas use, lowering bills. Gas is used to generate a third of UK electricity, driving up electric bills. Solar on homes can give households free electricity. Compare to 3-28 years for a new gas/oil field.

https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/inflationandpriceindices/articles/energypricesandtheireffectonhouseholds/2022-02-01

https://www.e3g.org/publications/addressing-the-uk-s-energy-needs-at-speed/

  1. Heat Pumps: time to deploy: days, weeks/months if changes also made to plumbing or insulation. Heat Pumps generate 2-4 units of energy from 1 unit put in. They use electricity which can be zero carbon and can replace gas which generates 0.9 of a unit from 1 unit put into a boiler. Octopus Energy say 15% of UK homes “could have a heat pump today with zero change – with no more than £500 of change as you get to 34% of homes”.

https://octopus.energy/blog/heat-pumps/

https://www.energylivenews.com/2022/03/15/octopus-boss-on-heat-pumps-its-the-ford-model-t-of-heating/   

Here’s a E3G chart (source blog with link to full paper)

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What Odds On A Climate Index For Weather?

An easily reportable Climate Change Index for weather comparable to the Nikkei or Dow Jones could help keep the issue at the forefront of public attention.  But who will help create and deliver it – the gambling industry perhaps?  In this blog I explore why such an index would be a good idea, and some ideas for creating and distributing one.

“Hurricane Hector 6 August 2018” by anttilipponen Creative Commons. Weather forecasters can quickly report if it’s a 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 category hurricane but what’s  its Climate Change Index?  

It’s no exaggeration to say the fate of the world depends on effective action to arrest climate change, and the it’s not news to say the world’s governments are so far falling very short in making the changes necessary. As in other cases, the rate of change delivery is limited by a resolution of two factors: the urgency or need to act, and the perceived feasibility of action.

After governments spent billions and crashed economies in Covid lockdowns, I noticed some plaintive tweets asking why, given that climate is in the end a far bigger threat, it does not merit similar emergency action?  The reason of course is that Covid was and is an immediate threat to life, tangible, personal, dreaded and detectable at every level. So action was a political imperative, as it posed an immediate threat to political reputations, positions, careers and entire governments.

The psychological case of climate change is still more like preventative action, with the consequences of failure often perceived to be beyond political terms of office. For the same reason, it will be a struggle to get politicians to devote significant resources to the action needed to stop the next zoonotic jump of a deadly virus from the biodiversity reservoir into humans, or to prepare effectively to prevent or deal with the next pandemic.

Lots is being done to drive urgency and feasibility related to the Climate Emergency, no doubt including by many of the people who read this.  Yet many politicians still sense that even with polls showing climate change is a high public priority, they can and need to only go so far in taking action on it.  To an extent they are right. There is still a part of every society which denies or pays little attention to climate.   And events such as catastrophic fires or floods, and political meetings which generate an episode of media attention push up climate concern but for most, it then recedes behind signals of more immediate concern.  Politicians are not just focused on the climate science.

Cartoon reproduced with permission – John Ditchburn (Ditchy) INKCINCT Cartoons

So what more can be done to increase and sustain the level of perceived political feasibility and urgency?

A Daily Reminder

It wouldn’t solve the problem in itself but creating a daily and hard to miss reminder of the damage that climate change is doing to our weather would help, and it is an achievable objective. Including it in all weather forecasts, in the media, apps and online would install it as social fact, creating a floor of salience which climate change would not sink below.

2018

In 2018, following one of those episodic events (a Northern Hemisphere Heat Wave), I argued in ‘A TV Watershed for Climate Change Campaigns’,  that the emerging science of ‘climate attribution’ meant the gap between weather and climate had closed and an index for the climate effect in weather should be created to allow easy media reporting in weather forecasts and the news. After all, it’s automatically accepted that the NASDAQ, FTSE100, Dow Jones or other stock exchange indices are important as a significant measure of the health of the global economy.  Yet no such daily, weekly or monthly index exists for the health of the global climate.

Three years on climate attribution science has developed, and awareness of it has been spread far and wide by leading practitioners such as  Friederike Otto of Oxford University and colleagues at World Weather Attribution but we still have no climate index for weather.

Perhaps that is because expecting climate attribution scientists to invent one may be a fools errand.  These people are at the cutting edge of an emerging field and to capturing what they know in a single index is an impossible task.  Not surprisingly they are divided (for example) over which bits of attribution science to communicate and how. Perhaps we need to involve practitioners who are nearer a different coalface – public communications of risk and uncertainty?

Activist Weather Forecasters

The most obvious candidates are the public faces of weather forecasting.

Members of Climate Without Borders

Some TV meteorologists and presenters have taken matters into their own hands and started including mentions of climate change in their weather programmes.   Climate Without Borders started as a WhatsApp group by Belgian weather forecaster Jill Peeters, the day after the Paris climate conference Agreement was signed in 2017.  It includes over 100 forecasters worldwide, who make reference to climate change.

Stripes day: Climate Without Borders member Jeff Berardelli using Ed Hawkins’ Warming Stripes on Warming Stripes Day 21 June

Another network started even earlier, is US-based Climate Matters run by Climate Central. They write:

Knowing that TV meteorologists are among the best and most trusted local science communicators, ClimateMatters began in 2010 as a pilot project with a single TV meteorologist in Columbia, South Carolina with funding from the National Science Foundation. Jim Gandy of WXLT gave his viewers regular updates on how climate change was affecting them through the inaugural Climate Matters.    

Trailblazer Jim Gandy of WXLT

But to get an index widely used and established it would need institutional buy-in. In 2018 it was suggested that the official German weather forecast system was due to start including climate attribution – I don’t know what happened. The UK Met Office said similar things but I haven’t seen any result.  Given the capacity of politicians for prevarication and in some cases even now, their fear of climate denier lobbies, perhaps officially funded national Met’ services are not going to be first off the blocks?  In the UK, the commercial channel Sky News now runs a Daily Climate Show (also on Youtube) but there’s no CCI or Climate Change Index for it to report.

The Daily Climate Show from Sky News

Or the international organisations could create such an index system.  The IPCC for instance, or the WMO, although they might take a very long time and get too thoroughly immersed in the purely scientific debates over what to include or base it on. More executive agencies like UNEP could facilitate a process.

Other Possible Sources And Channels To Develop An Index

There are of course mainly commercial online weather services with over 20 in the US alone but who else is used to dealing with public communication of risk and uncertainty?

There’s the insurance and re-insurance industries, such as Munich-Re and Swiss-Re, which were among the first, if not the first to recognize that climate change posed an existential risk for their business.  But their capacity for foresight is maybe not matched by public liking or trust.  Many people don’t understand risk sharing through insurance and resent it as a distress purchase.

Or there’s medicine and health.  Research and training in how to understand risk, odds, probabilities and uncertainty and how to communicate it to lay audiences (patients and potential patients) is far more advanced in medicine and public health than in natural sciences, and teaching it is routine in many clinical courses. Yet I suspect the climate and health disciplines have rarely met to discuss practical issues in communicating climate change.

Then there are the news and entertainment media acting as established channels for weather information.  Not just broadcasters like the BBC with a global audience of 489m or other supplying the 1.7bn tv households but the far larger number enjoying wider digital access, put at 5.2bn digital phone users and 4.7bn internet users, of a world population of 7.8bn.  Online giants such as Google, Apple, Netflix, Youtube and Amazon, certainly have the resources to take on such a project, and many have signed up to climate initiatives such as SBTi.

Another major public-facing industry which presents probabilities in ways that people are used to responding to, is the gambling industry.  It’s estimated that around 1.6bn people gamble throughout the year and 2bn have gambled at some point in their lives. Online sports betting might offer a suitable connection.  Whether or not punters fully understand ‘odds’ from an academic risk perspective may not be the point.  How people do respond is heavily researched and it is likely that the more frequent gamblers are also disproportionately represented among those who resist or avoid ‘climate messaging’ (ie in motivational values terms, some Prospectors and Settlers).  Plus the immensely profitable gambling industry is only too aware that it suffers something of an ethical and moral deficit.  An opportunity possibly, for it to be seen to do something useful?

Alternatively there are those who already make a business out of supplying index based information, such as the finance industry.  Thanks to Bloomberg’s and others it is now closely tied into action on climate, such as the TCFD, and has great ‘convening power’.

What Sort Of Index?

First and foremost it should be simple and understandable, and quick to reference, to maximise the number of channels that carry it and the number of people who notice it, so that it stands the best chance of registering with publics.

As a non-expert it seems to me that two obvious and complementary candidates are:

(1) a measure of polluted and unpolluted temperatures, which could be related to periods eg a year-to-date, or months, or weeks, which are already often referred to in weather broadcasts as in “it’s been an unusually warm …” or “well above the average for … or a record-breaking …” but visualised with a pre-human-warming value and the human-warmed value and explicitly a climate change index.

and

(2) ratings of extreme events (heat waves, storms etc based on climate attribution of the sort done by Fredi Otto and colleagues), perhaps a 1 – 5 climate change rating in the numerical style of the Hurricane Category Scale.

In the first case the main arguments might be over baselines and regional applicability.

In the second case they might be over whether there is only one parameter or more. The 1-5 Saffir-SimpsonHurricane scale was is wind-speed-based and was originated by an engineer Herbert Saffir, who was developing low-cost housing in hurricane prone areas. He realised there was no simple scale of the likely damage similar to the Richter Scale for earthquakes, and then worked with meteorologist Robert Simpson to develop the Hurricane grading which was launched in the US in 1973.

That scale gives a good approximation of what counts to people but it’s not about levels of confidence in what the public would call prediction.  Attribution analysis is about how likely it is that an event is or was caused by climate change and not necessarily how damaging or large it is.

But what counts in this case would be whether the index gets noticed, is easily recalled, and enters into public consciousness, and then is used as a reference point in public conversation, which of course also has implications for personal or political action.

Maybe sadly for scientists, it does not really matter is the wider public don’t fully grasp the derivation.  For instance, how many of those who look at whether the the Dow Jones, FTSE, DAX or Nikkei are going up or down, really understand how the indices are  calculated?  In dealing with complex and arcane analysis we are all used to delegating authority to others.  A well-known case in the UK was the discovery that many people were buying white goods labelled as A-rated because they thought it denoted an overall better product, not realising that the rating was based only on energy efficiency.  So long as it has a positive overall effect, it would be worth doing, and for those who want to know the details, those should be made available.

Operationalising An Index

There are lots of ways to approach this but I suggest if possible starting with a set of convenors and candidate sponsors who share a common vision and have or could secure the means to ensure an index is launched and run.

They would then have to oversee a process taking into account three main factors: what the ‘science’, meaning climate scientists and attribution scientists think can be said with confidence; what would be attractive to distribution channels and messengers; and public understanding/ comprehension/ cognitive processing.

A prior question framing the brief is what needs to be communicated (my starting suggestions are above), which could be best answered by climate change campaigners and practitioners, including political analysts and public affairs experts.  It would be important that the task did not creep into trying to popularise, summarise or crystallise the state of climate attribution knowledge.

This would require a series of market and formative qualitative research projects, expensive compared to many NGO climate campaign projects but peanuts compared to what’s at stake, or expenditure on climate science research such as modelling. These would include desk research of existing insight, workshops to originate ideas, some testing of assumptions, and production and testing of possible index executions to produce and pilot some options and help develop a communications strategy to roll it out.

Both origination and tests of possible executions would need to take some account of regional differences, cultural communication points, language and norms but most of that tuning would be better done by distributors at a later stage.

Food For Thought

Saffir-Simpson scale for Hurricanes Wikipedia

Saffir-Simpson scale for Hurricanes NOAA, US

Saffir-Simpson scale for Hurricanes Scoopnest/NWS

Richter scale – Earthquakes, from Forbes

Evolution of the IPCC burning ember diagram – Hans Joachim Schellnhuber

IPCC likelihood scale

Understanding Extreme Event Attribution – climate.gov

Attribution of additional temperature in California heatwave 2020 – climatesignals.org

Stock market crash – FinancialExpress.com

TV market report – Alamy.com

Sky News Daily Climate Show

Ed Hawkins Warming Stripes from Climate in Arts and History

The Plimsoll Line designed to stop ships sinking from overloading – pinterest

Sports Betting by “Sports betting” by Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar Creative Commons

iPhone weather app

Got an idea? Please leave comment.

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Five Es For Campaign Design and Management

Campaign Strategy Blog 24 January 2021. Chris Rose chris@campaignstrategy.co.uk

Here’s one for campaign planners, funders and managers.  This blog argues for consideration of 5-Es in campaign design adding Evidence and Ethics to the usual Economy, Efficiency and Effectiveness.  As campaigning typically requires a bespoke design, acquiring the right evidence is of great importance to test the effectiveness of any proposed critical path.  While most cause groups are ‘ethical’, to prevent a debilitating accumulation of objectives simply as they are ethically desirable, identifying and conserving the primary ethical purpose is another test that should be applied.  Honing campaign tools, and strategies in the limited case of campaigns that are essentially ‘repeat business’, are the main cases where optimising economy and efficiency are a worthwhile use of resources.

download as pdf

Introduction

Anyone who’s ever ventured into a conversation with managers versed in ‘value for money’ thinking will probably have come across the ‘3-E’s’: economy, efficiency and effectiveness. These useful distinctions apply to campaigning as much as to anything else, and particularly to making design and investment choices across a programme of campaigns, or between campaigning and other activities.

The OECD’s explanation suggests ‘value for money’ can be found in balancing the 3’Es viz:

Economy: Reducing the cost of resources used for an activity, with a regard for maintaining quality.

Efficiency: Increasing output for a given input, or minimising input for a given output, with a regard for maintaining quality.

Effectiveness: Successfully achieving the intended outcomes from an activity.

Seeing as almost any campaign has proponents who think it is of supreme importance, they will always want to prioritise effectiveness: throw everything at it. That’s not very helpful if you have a suite of organisational commitments.

Inadequate Resources

On the other hand it’s very common that campaign resources are spread too thinly for any of them to have much chance of working, especially in organisations with weak leadership (no effective prioritisation, everything is priority) or where there is no practice or culture of finding evidence that something will or won’t work, before committing to campaign design and execution. That may sound obvious but it’s a widespread problem.  Such evidence needs to be real, verifiable and independent of the aspirations or preconceptions of the campaigners.

The same issue of under-resourced campaigns arises when organisations fail to distinguish between advocacy and campaigning.  This happens most often in organisations which don’t just do campaigning but which do a lot of policy-advocacy work. In these groups ‘campaigning’ may just mean mobilising signs of public support for advocacy positions, and the policy/ advocacy units or staff are often the de facto gatekeepers of target choices, priorities and resources. This may work if for some reason a bit of mobilisation is all that’s needed to tip the balance. In my experience, in many more cases such ‘campaigns’ fail because that isn’t enough to achieve an objective.  Yet consciously or unconsciously, the organisation prefers to run such enhanced-advocacy to the alternative of an instrumental campaign which makes changes to outcomes, through making changes in the real world.  Such changes of course are often more less popular and more controversial than just advocating change.

Façade Campaigns

Façade villages created by Potemkin to impress Catherine the Great en route to Crimea are a legend or myth which have become a by-word or metaphor for fakery (image Wikimedia Commons)

In other cases ‘campaigns’ are presented as such but in reality are adjuncts to fundraising or membership, for instance as list-building or prospect-acquisition exercises.  These are ‘Potemkin’ campaigns, modern, usually digital equivalents of cardboard facades built to create an impression of substance. In this case they can achieve the 3-Es but not for the ostensible purpose presented to the public.

Evidence

So as a rule instrumental campaign planning also requires a fourth E – evidence.

Use the issue mapping exercise  to identify possible interventions (aka dialogue mapping) and the need for evidence.

For example if you want a thing to be stopped, how might it be stopped?  Don’t know?  Then find out how it works, what things, steps, processes does it need to happen, to continue.  Then each of those is a potential way to stop it, if you can take one away or block it.  How do those things function?  Ask questions of answers from questions (Horst Rittell) until you have a big enough network of potential causes and effects mapped out to start to see possible routes to change – the start of a candidate critical path.

Things put forwards as evidence also need to be questioned. Possible types of evidence of what will make a difference might include:

  • Observation – we’ve seen it happen, or fail to happen, or someone else has (but was it cause and effect?)
  • Claim (they say – who? what’s their evidence or is it just a belief?)
  • Inference (whose ? needs more testing against empirical evidence if possible)
  • Independent analysis (ie not ours, preferably from a source which is neither for or against us on ‘the issue’, of how the system in question works)
  • Experimental proof – someone has run an experiment, or de facto experiment whether intended or not
  • One or more of the above that we know to be accepted by the target decision-maker as likely to lead to the result we want (usually from intelligence about the thinking and preconceptions of others)

In the commercial communications world, when planners are concerned with specific audiences, such evidence is often called ‘insight’.  It’s why qualitative research is used to test assumptions made from polling, testing what data actually means.

Asking and trying to answer questions about evidence also reveals the knowns and unknowns.  When you do a mapping process to generate a possible critical path, make a list of things that need researching in order to validate assumptions – assumptions are not facts until validated. You or your team may not know something, for instance – does D really lead to E, and if so how ? – but someone else might.  The most cost-effective step may be to find that person rather than trying to generate the knowledge from primary research.

Knowns and Unknowns

Many strategists, risk analysts and project managers like to use a known/unknown grid.  In 2002 this emerged into the popular media when US Secretary of State for Defense said at a press conference about the Iraq War:

“there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know”

Rumsfeld missed out unknown knowns – things your organisation actually knows but you don’t, which is why it’s a good idea to ‘empty the pockets’ of your organisation and allies before making your plan, as this is free but unutilized knowledge.  It may be for example that your head campaigner knows more than any one else in your team about the topic but that does not mean s/he knows everything your network knows about it.

On the basis that knowledge you have accessed and used is ‘tapped’, blogger Management Yogi produced the above version of the grid.  The things your network knows but you don’t, are the ‘hidden facts’.

Uncovering this reality is one reason why any ‘mapping’ should not become a one-step decision making process (even more so if it uses a closed pre-formed selection of factors such as PEST). A desire for speed can lead you to make a decision based just on what you know for sure, and to wrongly assume that can’t be improved in with a bit of research.  As Bill Fournet of Persimmon Group wrote, this known/unknown technique:

‘provides a quick and simple approach to identify and determine which assumptions you need to focus on first. Sometimes, all it takes is a phone call or an email to get an answer. Yet, so many teams fail to take that step’

Here’s his version of the grid:

  

Resources

The question obviously arises, how much effort do you invest in trying to shift things into the known-known fact box?  The answer to that partly depends on how much ‘getting it right’ is important to you.  A priority campaign with a large investment is presumably more important than one with a small investment of resources, and even more so if the opportunity is rare, or so far as you know, unique.

Yet because important is often transposed to urgent, campaigns get launched despite a very weak evidence base.  This may also happen simply because the group concerned does not research change mechanisms at all, and only look at the mission-level importance of an objective, find it huge, and assume that ‘we must do something’ > ‘this is something’ > so we’ll do this.

It’s clear though that validating the known unknowns (the unknown facts), and the unknown knowns, (untapped knowledge), ought have first call on your research resource, as these are the most resolvable categories. The unknown unknowns, are harder to investigate and may need to be set aside – triaged out – if there is a deadline for deciding action.

The unknown unknowns are better dealt with in horizon-scanning exercises and include ‘black swans’, unpredictable catastrophic events or those assumed to be impossible.

In practice the divisions between the categories are not always completely impermeable.  Some campaigns are largely or wholly about issues with a high degree of ignorance but where existing knowledge means you can infer there may be a big problem. For example a high potential impact from a hazard might be inferred from a known unknown, such as ‘once released, we don’t know how to get this back’, coupled with some known facts, for example ‘things like this have caused serious problems’, even where the probability of occurrence and the specific consequences may not be knowable at present. Some new technologies and chemicals are perhaps the best known examples.

Andy Stirling at Sussex University has separated ignorance into strict uncertainty, ambiguity and ignorance, together covered by the term ‘incertitude’.  Where there is no evidence basis for assigning a probability of risk and outcomes, a precautionary approach is the appropriate response.  He says: ‘dilemmas of incertitude typically mean that no particular policy can be uniquely validated by the available evidence. The idea of a single ‘evidence based policy’ is an oxymoron’.  Although writing about policy, Stirling’s point also applies to looking at evidence for campaigns.

Efficiency and Economy

The over-riding importance of  effectiveness does not mean there is no place for improving economy or efficiency in campaigning but this is strongest where a campaign is repeat business.  In this case, once an effective model has been devised, so long as you can reasonably expect to do much the same thing in the same circumstances, it’s worth investing time and effort in doing it in a cheaper more efficient manner.

This however is more likely to apply to the tools, logistical assets or tactics used in a campaign, for instance means of communication, than the strategy itself. It’s also more likely to apply to non-campaign work, such as service delivery.  For example a nature conservation organisation may need to campaign as well as acquiring and running protected areas but each campaign is likely to have particular circumstances not predictable in advance, and to require a bespoke strategy.  The land acquisition and management work is more routine and predictable  not least as it is largely governed by accepted and regulated frameworks, whereas campaigning may be necessary for the very reason that the established political and social systems have failed, or need changing.

This needs to be understood in the Management and Governance functions of an organisation.  You cannot apply the same evaluation metrics placing a lot of emphasis on economy and efficiency (or productivity) to campaigns, as you can for routine repeat business.

Ambition

As described in How to Win Campaigns: Communications for Change (Ch. 11) each organisation needs to develop its own campaign style, including the tone and organisational role played by campaigning, so it feels comfortable within the brand and is understood and accepted in the community of the organisation.  Some organisations typically run campaigns that are much more strategically ambitious than others (eg in the nature case, restricted site-defence campaigns at one end of the ambition dimension and changes to the prevailing social and economic model and how it affects nature, at the other end).  One way of looking at this is the ambition box.

Ambition Box from How to Win Campaigns Communications for Change (read more)

Finally, it may well be worth looking at the efficiency, economy and effectiveness of the campaign planning, strategy and programming system itself.  If that’s not adequate then evaluating the downstream campaigns is a bit of a waste of time, as their failings may be symptoms of the upstream problem.

Ethics

In the case of cause organisations a fifth E often comes into play:  Ethics.  If morals are rules given by authority and ethics are self-adopted principles governing our lives, the default campaign design problem is not too little ethics but too much, or rather too many objectives, added for or justified by, ethical purposes.

That’s because most change-campaigners and their organisations are Pioneers, with a psychological commitment to act ethically. Coupled with the Pioneer tendency to think that the more ideas and consultation thrown into the decision-making the better, plus a love of doing things differently, campaign plans and execution can become encrusted with ethical barnacles.   This is why I suggest Ethics as the fifth E for campaign planners: so that effectiveness does not fall foul of trying to serve too many ethical purposes at once.

To be clear about this, it’s not an argument about being ethical per se. The very act of deciding to develop, run, support or finance a campaign is in many cases, ethical at root.

It’s a design question. Each campaign needs to have a single clear ultimate change-objective.  That objective might serve several ethical purposes but if those would best be served by making a set of different changes, then they should be pursued with different campaigns. Failing because you attempted to do too many ethical things at once is not a very ethical use of time and money.

The same applies if a set of possible changes all serve the same ethical purpose.  For pursuing the mission of an organisation set on that purpose, they might all be equally valid but if they involve different targets in different systems (eg social, cultural, temporal economic, or geographic), they will require different critical paths.

This is a simple reality of design, not confined to campaigns.  The screwdriver attachment multi-purpose tool is unlikely to be as good at the screwdriver job as a set of screwdrivers made with the same amount of metal and effort.  The meal-ready-to-eat nutrition bar designed as survival food is never going to give the sophisticated flavours of a meal in a five star restaurant.  And the family saloon car design may be fairly good at lots of things but it’s never going to be as good at high speed travel as a racing car or as good at sustained off-roading as purpose-made 4×4.  As form follows intended function, effective design can include zero sum choices.  That in turn means that achieving the objective dictates the design, and it can’t take on unlimited ethical tasks along the way. This is easily lost sight of during internal consultation.

It’s tempting for cause organisations to try and add extra ethical functions to a campaign because they all have internal advocates, and decision-makers might like the campaign to deliver on them all. If this is an issue, candidate designs should be tested against real world evidence.

Ethical over-load can also lead to wider unintended consequences. If we signal that we would like others to change behaviours or practices for ethical reasons A B and C, when audiences are far from ready to do so, we may create a values-bombing effect of resentment and opposition (as I have argued Political Correctness did in the case of pre-Brexit developments, particularly but not only with some Settlers). If the campaign also fails to achieve its objectives, we look like failures (especially unattractive to Prospectors) and the overall impact is negative.

Criticisms to Ignore

My advice to groups faced with arguments over ethical objectives is to bear in mind the core mission of your organisation and why you want to run a campaign on a particular issue.  There is an almost unlimited universe of ethical causes which could become imperatives, and they are unlikely to be effectively optimised in one campaign.

This risk is mitigated by picking a strategic objective.    If you have picked the thing to change because it’s the biggest available and achievable change you can make on subject A, then the fact that your campaign could have also targeted topic B, or B through to F, is not a criticism of it that you need to accept.   The critics really need to go away and find an organisation whose primary task is to change B or C or D or E or F, or accept that you will you run a campaign on those another day.

Plus even in an organisation which maybe has a policy on, or advocates for change on a, b, c, d, e and f,  running a change campaign is a much heavier duty more resource- and opportunity-focused exercise than advocacy, so the same applies.  For practical purposes of producing campaigns that may actually make gains rather than simply drawing attention to the case for making changes, the ethical profile of a campaign often needs to be limited by its primary purpose in order to produce an ethical gain.

The Limitations of Campaigning

This is also one reason why campaigning is a limited tool.  It has to focus attention and engagement on a single change, and often seizing a single moment of opportunity or, more onerous, creating one.  Similar limitations mean campaigning cannot be a good way of doing education (as education generates increases awareness of possibilities whereas each campaign step necessarily focuses on supporting a specific call to action), and cannot properly substitute for politics and government which involve ongoing negotiated trade-offs.

Finally, ethics, fashions and moral norms are not fixed so at an organisational level, and campaign groups face similar follower-supporter and wider social expectations to companies and public bodies, in moving with the times.

What count as ‘hygiene factors’, expectations that would apply to anything an organisation or brand does, will change over time but not all of these will be motivational factors determining whether a particular campaign or organisation is supported.  For instance being low carbon is becoming an expectation of businesses whereas it used to be a distinguishing exception. If not already, this will be expected from all cause groups as well as corporations.  Right now however speeding up the elimination of carbon emissions is not the primary purpose of every campaign by every campaign group.

Summary

The campaigning five Es:

See also

The UK National Audit Office on Value For Money and the 3-Es in commissioning

The Australian Government on 3-Es with ethical procurement as a 4th

Some research-impact researchers on Effectiveness and Efficiency, having jettisoned economy for Equity

Brand hygiene ideas evolved from Herzberg’s ‘two factor’ motivational theory, originating in studies of employee satisfaction https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two-factor_theory

 

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The Cinderella COP And The Extinction Theme Park

long blog – download as pdf here

People all over the world love nature, plants and animals.  Online and on TV, Natural History films are a hugely popular and profitable genre as they attract family audiences. The BBC has just started public marketing of it’s new Attenborough mega-series Green Planet. Yet the extinction of ‘biodiversity’ has struggled to be taken seriously as a political issue. In this blog I explore what it might take for campaigns to make a difference to this year’s global biodiversity conference, the history and challenges of this ‘Cinderella’ political issue, and the bizarre case of Swanscombe Peninsula, which may become a test case in the UK: a biodiverse site threatened by a theme park with dinosaurs.  

[note: some readers have questioned what ‘Cinderella’ means in this context – I meant that it’s neglected, overlooked compared to climate. Journalist Peter Greenfield called the biodiversity the ‘little sister’ COP compared to COP26 on climate]

Introduction

Will 2022 be the year when governments take the Nature Emergency as seriously as the Climate Emergency?  Hopes are focussed on the 15th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD15), due to take place in Kunming China, from 17 – 30 May. Few commentators are optimistic about it.

istock

Ever since the 1992 Earth Summit, governments have promised effective action to stem the loss of biodiversity and then failed. Conservationists have long complained that ‘biodiversity’ is an under-resourced Cinderella issue. Communicators complain that it’s not understood: ‘biodiversity’ is policy-speak not everyday language for nature. Academics identify a plethora of difficulties explaining it but overall, nature still drains away.  Scientists fear millions of species will soon be lost.

What Needs To Happen

Perhaps I am stating the obvious but it seems to me that it needs at least three things for nature even to gain the political and social traction that ‘climate’ has through international action:

  • Getting governments organised. Effective international political and scientific organisation and structure connecting to national economic, land use and natural resource policy
  • Enabling politicians to understand it. Translation of targets derived from science into shorthands and metrics which non-scientific domestic politicians and decision-makers can understand and communicate at least between themselves (equivalent to climate’s ‘net zero’ and 1.5C ‘safe limit’ and ‘unburnable carbon’)
  • ·Enabling people to put pressure on politicians to act on commitments. Connection of the top-down agenda for action with bottom-up public support and pressure to protect surviving nature and enhance it, meaning that it must be visible, tangible and tractable where people live, work, rest and play, with outcomes testable through personal experience.  This is where campaigns can make the biggest difference.

Late in coming it is, and inadequate it may be but there are signs that an inter governmental infrastructure is now being put in place, partly emulating and drawing energy from that in place for climate. Corporates, NGOs, scientists and politicians have come together in new initiatives and alliances (see Cinderella COP below).  The second problem is soluble but it’s unlikely to be sorted by May, although it might just emerge from the CBD process through luck. There’s not much time for the third one but it’s the most realistic opportunity to take for campaigners wanting to improve on the default outcome for biodiversity’s COP15.

COP15 already has a full agenda.  It’s reported that:

‘The 21-point draft includes targets on eliminating plastic pollution, reducing pesticide use by two-thirds and halving the rate of invasive species introductions, aimed at cutting the rate of extinctions and protecting life-sustaining ecosystems’.

It’s also said that ‘nature based solutions’ – the obvious cross-over with climate – are in the draft, although president Jair Bolsanaro of Brazil opposes them and they ‘may well be cut in the run up’.  And both the UN and a ‘high ambition’ alliance are pushing ideas such as protecting of 30% of the planet for nature by 2030 and stopping the loss of biodiversity  by 2030 (see Cinderella COP below).

Planetary Boundaries are being exceeded

Dieback of the New Forest ecosystem in the UK, from Nature

Built environment drivers of biodiversity loss

Finding Campaign Targets

There’s not much to be gained by campaigners trying to push new ideas onto the agenda for CBD15.

In my view, the underlying problem for biodiversity is that politicians still assume it can be saved without having to fundamentally disrupt the way we do things.  And if they do think it needs fundamental far-reaching change, it’s not politically possible, just yet.  This is a penny that has dropped further and faster on climate than biodiversity.

So whether or not for the conference proves a turning point will depend on whether national politicians attending it already believe they must change their domestic economic, development and planning systems, pollution controls and use of land and the sea. That in turn will depend on manifestation of public demand and support.

If that doesn’t happen CBD15 may just be a small audience spectator sport for environmentalists on zoom, with a zoo of paper tiger commitments let loose in Kunming.

The political temptation is always to agree to vague targets or those with an implementation date well into the future. At the top level ‘biodiversity’ itself is vague, generic and placeless, allowing one dimensional single metric metaphors such as ‘moving the dial’. It’s easy for politicians to attend an international conference and agree we must change the trajectory on biodiversity without it translating into instrumental change on the ground, in how things work in my country, at home.  That’s been the history.

from @yallah instagram

It’s much harder for governments to stop something they’ve already started or are accustomed to, than to agree to do something new.  So if they do, that really means something. If I was looking for a campaign target to make a difference for CBD15, that’s what I’d look for: something to stop, something already happening or planned but which is incompatible with the Convention ambition that the relevant country would like to align with.

The strongest signal for politicians to receive from a campaign is not seeing opinion polls or being lobbied by experts but the experience of having to do different: whether they themselves decide that or they are forced into it.  Seeing an unmistakable change-signal from significant others who cannot be ignored (eg expenditure of corporations or large instrumental changes in public choices and behaviours) can come a close second.

In other words whether it involves a battle or not, I suggest looking for a reversal or abandonment of an existing practice or project, rather than just promoting a target for future change.

Such objectives can be tough to achieve but it doesn’t have to be huge and running across the spectrum of problems and solutions associated with biodiversity.  It could be quite discrete but emblematic nonetheless.  In practical campaign terms between now and May, such a stop- or save-target has several advantages:

  • Availability – if the thing already exists, the campaign does not to spend a long time defining and constructing public awareness of it
  • Comprehension – if it’s real, physical and familiar then the public is more likely to understand it and can respond to a conflict over it by seeing who’s involved without having to be educated about finer points of biodiversity and policy
  • Speed – if your demand is binary enough, there is time between now and May to engage public as well as elite audiences
  • Test of intent – in the run up to COP15 it should be a cogent litmus-test of true political intent and working assumptions

And less obviously it might be

  • Crossing a Rubicon, a defining moment of decision which departs from past assumptions

If you try, and you win, then great.  If you try and you lose, too bad but at least you have run the test, and you have created evidence for next time, with a lot of witnesses. Without such moments, a process like the CBD COP15 may go un-noticed by most of the public, or understood only through episodic exchanges of soundbites between biodiversity advocates and politicians rehearsing the usual arguments.

The ideal contest is an event which signals the public support and the essence of the issue, and which is extended enough for a conversation to develop, for days or weeks. Campaigns which achieve this are candidates to trigger a what theorists term a ‘dialectical moment’, a time when two conflicting ‘truths’ are resolved as society rethinks in real time and a new truth emerges. (See Final Thoughts below, on biodiversity and nature as a blank free space).

In terms of timing, for a campaign to now make an impact on politicians who go on to make an impact on COP15 it needs to get ‘inside the loop’ and have its effect faster than the default timescales for preparation, participation, decision making and implementation through the Convention process.

All that’s still fairly generic as the opportunities will vary radically from one country to another so I’ll share an example I know about in the UK.   It’s a bit idiosyncratic and it’s in the ‘when in a hole, first stop digging’ categoryIn other words stop making the problem worse, in this case by not building on an important nature site near London.

Back in 2013 the UK government put a proposal for a huge entertainment park on a ‘fast-track’ for development approval.  It still doesn’t have planning consent but if built it would destroy one of the most biodiverse places in the country, at Swanscombe Peninsula in North Kent.  Strangely, even the BBC is involved, and on the wrong side.  It’s a bizarre microcosm of what happens in the UK, a highly nature-depleted over-developed country, when biodiversity comes up against conventional development thinking. 

Swanscombe’s Extinction Theme Park

Local campaigners Donna Zimmer, hairdresser and naturalist (left), Laura Edie, special needs teaching assistant and Councillor (centre), and Karen Lynch, right, of Save Swanscombe Peninsula

If it was a save-nature movie plot, the conservation battle over Swanscombe Peninsula might be rejected as too far-fetched.  A community campaign led by a hairdresser and a teaching assistant, up against a plan to build a vast ‘global standard’ £3.5 billion theme park, the ‘London Resort’, promoted by London Resort Company Holdings Ltd (LRCH).

From the Save Swanscombe Peninsula campaign Facebook page

By UK standards Swanscombe is an outstanding hotspot of biodiversity.  It has many rare plants and in an area about one and a half times the size of Regents Park, a greater number of breeding birds than any major nature reserve in south east England.  It’s home to nightingales, water voles, cuckoos, otters and ravens.  Foremost among its remarkable 1700 invertebrate species, is the extravagantly named Distinguished Jumping Spider, surviving only here and on the opposite bank of the Thames.

The main habitats of Swanscombe Peninsula – from Natural England

A ‘Nature Reserve’ For Extinct Animals

London Resort PR artists impression of the ‘Prehistoric Nature Reserve’ to be built on Swanscombe Peninsula

Potential nemesis of the Distinguished Jumping Spider comes in the form of larger-than-life ‘PY’ Pierre-Yves Gerbeau, an ex-ice hockey player and something of a travelling salesman for outlandish attraction developments, who made his name with Disneyland Paris and as ‘rescuer’ of the controversial London Millennium Dome.  Gerbeau is CEO of LRCH.  With his trademark bravado, his latest big idea for the London Resort, alongside six rollercoasters, is a ‘Prehistoric Nature Reserve’ featuring fake dinosaurs.

P Y Gerbeau and the Distinguished Jumping Spider (spider photo – Buglife)

Principal champion of the Distinguished Jumping Spider and the other invertebrate species found on the site, is a small national UK charity called Buglife*.  Established in 2000, its name echoes the 1998 Disney Pixar movie ‘Bug’s Life’, which has inspired generations of children to ‘like bugs’, and in which ants fight for their home against a predatory swarm of gangster-style grasshoppers. Buglife has a petition against the development.

“Too Much Democracy”

PY’s boss at LRCH is Chairman Steven Norris, a former MP and Conservative Minister, now a property developer who has twice gone public with his neo-con style view that there is “far too much democracy” in the UK as it gets in the way of development. He’s also said in a Property Week Magazine video in 2018 that universal suffrage is a “daft idea”.

Steven Norris – “far too much democracy” at 6 secs, NSIPs “very very welcome” at 1min 4 secs

Kuwaiti Money

Money behind LRCH comes from oil-rich Kuwait through Dr. Abdulla Al Humaidi, former oil executive, politician and Chairman of Kuwaiti European Holding (KEH). LRCH is ultimately controlled by companies based in Kuwait. London Resort is ‘overseen’ by KEH. Dr Al Humaidi bought the local fooball club, Ebbsfleet in 2013.

The cast of characters extends to blue-chip media companies, all on the wrong side of the biodiversity fence as ‘IP partners’, having signed Development Agreements with LRCH to supply their Intellectual Property for themes and content of rides and attractions.  These include Paramount Pictures, ITV Studios, and most extraordinary of all, BBC Studios which signed up in 2014.

David Attenborough And The BBC

The BBC of course is a palace of natural history content and the long-standing HQ of Sir David Attenborough, often referred to as ‘a god’ by BBC insiders, one of the most popular people in Britain, famous for wildlife spectaculars such as Planet Earth and Blue Planet,  and in recent decades an environmental campaigner backing causes such as The Wildlife Trusts and Prince William’s ‘Earth Shot Prize’, featured in a BBC Studios production, Repairing the Planet.  So far the BBC has rejected calls from campaigners to withdraw from the theme park project.  (Sign Save Swanscombe Peninsula’s petition to the BBC here).  Attenborough has also made several films about dinosaurs but LRCH and BBC publicity suggested the BBC content for the theme park was most likely to be from Dr Who.

How BBC reported the deal with London Resort in 2014

Earthshot Prize featuring David and Attenborough in 2021 – a BBC Studios production

Both the BBC and ITV have featured in an investor marketing promotion for the London Resort

Since 2011 both the BBC and ITV have made much of their commitments to sustainability, although in both cases it focuses mainly on cutting their climate-changing footprints and waste, through adherence to the ‘Albert’ sustainable production system set up by the BBC and now also adopted by Netflix, ITV, Sky and Channel Four. Symptomatic of a wider challenge for biodiversity campaigns, Albert says nothing about biodiversity and the BBC has no policy on biodiversity and nature conservation.

Dame Judi Dench endorsing ITV’s sustainability mission 

Business for Nature and Holcim Lafarge

To cap it all, crucial land required for the LRCH project to build its nature reserve for extinct species, car parks, hotels and the rest of the theme park is 50% owned by the world’s largest cement company Holcim (through Swanscombe Development LLP, a partnership with Anglo-American).  This is because although originally chalk grasslands and grazing marsh, much of the area was mined to feed a cement works, with land acquired by Lafarge, which then merged with Holcim.  Enough flora and fauna survived to recolonize the whole site when the industry shut down, fortuitously also insulated from the chemical onslaught of industrial farming, which explains its biodiversity riches. In recent decades Holcim has set out to be a more sustainable company and in 2021 its CEO Jan Jenisch was one of 20 business leaders [Business for Nature] who wrote an Open Letter to Heads of State on the importance of biodiversity.

Government Fast-Track

Finally, the London Resort theme park project (then Paramount Park) was granted special status in 2014 by then then Conservative Planning Minister Eric Pickles, as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project or NSIP.  This by-passes normal democratically controlled local planning process and puts decisions directly in the hands of central government planning inspectors and Ministers to fast-track projects.

Eric Pickles (right) commons.wikimedia.org

Why a theme park, a straightforward commercial development, should qualify as ‘nationally significant infrastructure’, a special treatment normally reserved for major infrastructure like power stations, ports, or large road or rail projects, has puzzled many informed observers.  Pickles justification was ‘economic’.  If it goes ahead the scheme will destroy several local industrial estates home to 140 small businesses, many of which oppose the theme park, employing over 1500 people. The businesses believe Pickles was ignorant of their existence, and was only told by planning consultants Savills that the area was a ‘mainly post-industrial brownfield land and largely derelict’.

Small business affected by the theme park proposal – From Kent Online 

A Test Case For UK Government Responsibility

This puts the fate of Swanscombe Peninsula directly in the hands Boris Johnson’s government.  After many delays caused by LRCH’s failure to meet deadlines, the NSIP hearings may start in March and run throughout the time the UK government is taking part in the CBD’s COP15.  The UK likes to portray itself as an environmental leader at such events and together with France and Costa Rica has been promoting the concept of stopping loss of biodiversity by 2030 (see Cinderella COP, below).

Boris Johnson has adopted the same target as a national objective, saying: “biodiversity loss is happening today, it is happening at a frightening rate”.

These awkward circumstances are made more acute because following calls from Buglife, the CPRE, RSPB and Kent Wildlife Trust, and over 70 scientists and conservation experts, Swanscombe Peninsula was confirmed as a nationally important Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in November 2021 by Natural England, the government’s own conservation agency.  In normal circumstances that should prevent any damaging development, and the heart of the SSSI would be concreted over if the Theme Park were constructed but an NSIP is not normal circumstances.  Consequently Swanscombe is a test case of the UK government’s commitment to biodiversity.

LRCH claims that the theme park can compensate for lost biodiversity with its ‘off-site ecological compensation strategy’  but conservation groups dismiss this as impossible given the scale of the direct footprint (about 100 Hectares) and knock-on indirect effects. Natural England have stated “compensation cannot adequately address the harm that would result to the SSSI from the development proposal, as the feasibility of doing this is considered low and very unlikely to offer an equivalent assemblage and richness of species.”

[For more information – background papers on Swanscombe – one on the value of the site, the other on LRCH and the BBC]

The Cinderella COP – Some Campaign Issues

Climate change emerged as a global political issue in the late 1980s and it became progressively more obvious that protecting biodiversity needed a similar scientific and political commitment-making system to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, est 1988) and the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change est 1992). Imperfect though these are, they helped stimulate and frame political action. Although the CBD or Convention on Biological Diversity was first launched at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, it has struggled to translate the global overview of acute need into systematic action at national and regional level.

Grand Targets, Weak Delivery

A 30 December article in The Guardian by Patrick Greenfield was headlined ‘Can 2022 be a super year for nature?’  “Super Year” is the hopeful term that was coined by UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen for 2020, before both the CBD COP15 and COP26 on climate got delayed by Covid.  It follows decades of failure. Greenfield summarised the state of play like this:

Scientists say the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth is under way and accelerating … a million plant and animal species could disappear, according to a UN report …  82% and natural ecosystems have lost about half their area … destruction of the world’s forests [has] increased sharply [and] the world’s governments have missed every single target they have set for themselves on averting the destruction of the natural world’.  

Those failures include a 2002 commitment on the tenth anniversary of the CBD originally signed at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, to ‘significantly slow’ biodiversity loss by 2010.  That was incorporated in the Millennium Development Goals but missed and in turn was followed by the 20 biodiversity ‘Aichi Goals’ of 2011 agreed in Japan. None were fully met, including target 5, to ‘at least halve’ the loss of natural habitats by 2020.

The detail shows more protected areas, at least on paper, more cases of individual species brought ‘back from the brink’ of extinction, and more successes of many kinds due to a huge amount of effort, just not enough to outweigh the impacts such as from industrial agriculture, pollution and land use change.

Higher Ambition

Now the ambition is now to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 and set aside 30-50% of the planet for nature. In his 2016 book ‘Half-Earth: The Planet’s Fight for Life’ the eminent biologist E O Wilson** proposed making half the earth’s surface into sanctuaries as the only way to be sure of stemming the loss of biodiversity.   In 2019, spurred by the failure of the Aichi targets, conservationists adopted a more direct approach and put forward much the same target for land to be set aside for nature.

In April 2019 20 leading scientists including Tom Lovejoy**, called for a global Deal for Nature with ‘30% of Earth to be formally protected and an additional 20% designated as climate stabilization areas’. Their proposal was framed as a complement to the Paris (climate) Agreement.

Pledge for nature

In September 2020 leaders of the European Union and 70 countries (now 93)made the commitment in a ‘Leaders’ Pledge for Nature’.  The initiative was backed by NGOs, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), Belize, Bhutan, Colombia, Costa Rica, the EU, Finland, Kenya, Seychelles, and the UK. It came just before a UN Summit on Biodiversity held at the General Assembly in New York with (due to Covid) leaders sending pre-recorded videos .

High Ambition for Nature and People

In Paris on January 11 2021, ‘30 x 30’ got international political backing with the launch of the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People at the One Planet Summit. This committed nations to protecting ‘at least’ 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030.  Led by Costa Rica, France and the UK, it now includes 70 countries.   This is undoubtedly progress in starting to organise a progressive network among governments but it is not enough to create delivery. Soon after his inauguration US President Joe Biden announced ‘America the Beautiful’ his 30 x 30.  In the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his 30 x 30 in September 2020, with all the right sentiments:

“We can’t afford dither and delay because biodiversity loss is happening today, it is happening at a frightening rate … If left unchecked, the consequences will be catastrophic for us all … Extinction is forever – so our action must be immediate”

But search online for ‘30 by 30’ and you quickly find a forest of criticisms calling such commitments into doubt, from objections that Biden’s plan might not help the environmental struggles of indigenous peoples to campaigners pointing out that Johnson had included England’s National Parks as ‘protected’ areas covering 26% of the country, whereas the RSPB’s Lost Decade report found as little as 5% of the UK was actually well managed for nature.  The extent to which such more ambitious targets actually produce bigger and better results will depend on how much politicians believe the public want it.

Corporate Action

There is growing engagement of corporations with biodiversity but, as with the BBC, it is generally much lower level or an earlier stage than that on climate. Against that, companies have a track record of being able to move much faster than most governments when they want to.

A 2018 study found one third of the sustainability reports of the top 100 (largest) Fortune 500 companies had some sort of commitment to biodiversity. However the researchers, from Oxford and Kent University, also noted:

Of the top Fortune 100 companies, 86 have publicly available sustainability reports … almost half (49) … mentioned biodiversity … and 31 made clear biodiversity commitments and an additional 12 made clear fishing or forestry commitments. However, only five of these companies made biodiversity commitments that could be considered specific, measurable and time-bound. This is unlike the much greater adoption of science-based climate commitments made by companies committing to reduce carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement within the next decade (https://sciencebasedtargets.org/), emphasising that biodiversity loss remains a less pressing issue to the private sector compared to climate change.

One of the authors later wrote:

‘when we took a closer look at which companies were making commitments that were specific, measurable & time bound, we found that only 5 of the Fortune 100 did so (Walmart, Hewlett Packard, AXA, Nestlé and Carrefour). For example, Walmart’s commitment: “To conserve one acre of wildlife habitat for every acre of land occupied by Walmart U.S. through 2015″. Beyond Walmart’s commitment, none of the remaining Fortune 100 had adopted quantifiable biodiversity commitments (e.g., no net loss or better), unlike the small but rising number of businesses outside of the Fortune 100’

Walmart’s current conservation commitment

A 2020 German study also suggested that biodiversity is still a Cinderella topic compared to climate. It examined corporate engagement of 618 firms in halting loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. It found

‘a favourable attitude, driven by perceived business relevance and benefit prospects, fosters engagement. Perceived difficulties, such as lacking finances and knowledge, hinder the engagement. Customers, employees and the general public are presently the only stakeholder groups that drive corporate conservation engagement. Nevertheless, the expectation levels of virtually all stakeholders were found to be quite low and as such inadequate for the ecological crisis we face’.

The observation that ‘Customers, employees and the general public are presently the only stakeholder groups that drive corporate conservation engagement’ is not surprising given that few governments have yet legislated to require actions comparable to those stipulated in climate-related regulation, such as car manufacturers facing heavy fines of up to €30,000 per vehicle if their model range does not meet EU targets on reduced carbon emissions.

Translating that to biodiversity would be more complex but the experience of other issues suggests that it’s only a carrot and stick approach which really stimulates comprehensive change. The latest post-Brexit UK scheme for increasing biodiversity on farmland seems to be all carrot and involves paying farm businesses to do so. According to The Wildlife Trusts, it also relies on them to self-evaluate.

The EU has deliberately reached out to engage businesses as part of its constituency building exercise for its EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030  , part of its European Green Deal.  A Business Summit was held in November 2021.

Act for Nature is a French biodiversity initiative aimed at global actors including businesses, NGOs, academic institutions and public bodies. 57 companies have made commitments which Act for Nature considers SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound).  It is associated with Business for Nature which has over 1000 corporate members with revenues totally over $4.7 trillion, including Holcim, and has called on governments to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030.

Business For Nature

In 2021 nine philanthropic organizations , including Jeff Bezos’s Earth Fund and Bloomberg Philanthropies pledged to give $5 billion by 2030 to help reach the 30×30 goal of protecting 30 % of biodiversity.

A Risk For Campaigns

Earlier in this blog I suggested that we needed governments to get organised, to enable politicians to understand biodiversity (for instance it’s said that none of the 650 UK MPs have a degree in biology, and ‘biodiversity’ is really nature for biologists), and ‘Enabling people to put pressure on politicians to act on commitments’.

Track 1 and 2: advocacy can work on the slow analytical track 2, public campaigns must work on Track 1

The first two of those are mainly in what I’ve called the Track 2 World (see this blog), of policy communities and professional elites, in this case including diplomats and NGO advocates, international scientific networks and executives in corporate ESG (Environment Social and Governance) or CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) roles.

NGOs can have an important role in catalysing these things but there is always a risk of adopting concepts and language which work fine in the ‘policy community’ but do not cross-over into everyday life, which is the context for public campaigns.  Or as communications researchers say, they are not ‘portable’ and don’t function in Track 1 terms where communication is not conscious and analytical (Track 2) but intuitive and dominated by unconscious processes such as framing, heuristics and values.

Given time and education, people can learn the meaning of concepts such as Biodiversity Net Gain or even more arcane ideas, and the biodiversity and climate issues are littered with their acronyms but in everyday life there usually is no time or opportunity for education or training to decode glossaries, certainly not during live campaigns.

So if NGOs approach the CBD on the assumption that they can rouse political support for key demands beyond their most dedicated core base with such concepts, their efforts are unlikely to succeed.  That’s a risk which NGOs could mostly control themselves.

Of course, it is possible for simple repetition to create understanding without analytical education, most often based purely on association.  For example a thing understood to be connected to nature or climate without necessarily having to understand exactly how.

Although not very useful, this happened in the UK with COP26 (held in Glasgow) and climate. ‘COP’ got repeated so often in the media and social media that I’ve even seen politicians wanting to criticise climate measures referring to them as ‘COP’ without mentioning climate.

A more useful example is the Carbon Footprint.  In the 2000s I was surprised to find that volunteer crew of the local RNLI (lifeboat service) who had shown no prior interest in ‘climate’ beyond gentle scepticism, were enthusiastically trying to fall into line with a request from headquarters to save energy and cut emissions.  When I asked why, the answer was just “carbon footprint”.

Happisburgh (pron. Haze-burr) footprints in Norfolk UK from 900,000 years ago. A footprint is an intuitively understandable metaphor – an imprint we leave.

Some campaigners don’t like the carbon footprint because it was originated by Ogilvy and Mather for an advertising campaign which associated BP with climate action (and copied the format of the personal rather than corporate responsibility used in many advertising campaigns including the 1970 ‘litter’ packaging campaign, discussed in a previous blog, A Beautiful If Evil Strategy).  However it was preceded by the concept of an Ecological Footprint, which campaigners rather did like, and the same basic idea of source specific responsibility has been turned to good use in assessing the footprint of countries (eg the Living Planet Index/ reports by WWF et al) and by campaigners such as Greenpeace (which has its own carbon footprint calculator) to target corporations.

It seems likely that such carbon-responsibility campaigning helped drive corporates to sign up to initiatives such as the SBTi or Science Based Targets Initiative (begun 2015) and the Carbon Disclosure Project (which also includes forests and started in 2000), and these in turn may even have influenced other initiatives such as the TCFD (Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosure, 2015) which has also influenced regulation.

Scalability

A strength of the footprint concept is that it relates responsibility to an entity, right down to the individual. If policy measures adopted by governments or even international initiatives have expression at the regional, local, organisational and individual level, the gulf between elite analytical discourses and personal street corner conversations and actions disappears.

One of my favourite examples of a visible, tangible, personal action that was begun to address a national nature problem, is the American Duck Stamp.   The Duck Stamp Act was passed by Congress in 1934.  It requires ‘each waterfowl hunter to purchase a stamp, thereby generating revenue for wetland acquisition. The Act has resulted in 4.5 million acres of waterfowl habitat protection’.

I’m not a duck shooter but I can’t help thinking that the basic idea could be turned to advantage in the modern nature emergency context.

Is Biodiversity Understood?

It isn’t safe to assume that the public as opposed to professionals in the sector, know what ‘biodiversity’ actually means.  Back in 2009 I analysed a huge opinion poll used by the European Commission to plan its Action Plan ‘Halting The loss Of Biodiversity By 2010 – And Beyond’.

At the time it was claimed that the poll showed 65% of the EU public understood the term and could explain what “loss of biodiversity” meant “in their own words” but in reality the question format had already provided (prompted) them with the answer.  A small but more penetrating 2007 survey from the UK had tested unprompted understanding of the term.  That found only 9% got the ‘right’ answer.

The UK study also gave people four possible meanings of biodiversity and asked which was correct. These were ‘waste that breaks down naturally’, ‘the variety of living things’, ‘rubbish that can be burnt for fuel’ and, ‘the use of trees to off-set carbon emissions’. Of these the most popular was “waste that breaks down naturally” at 33% (37% amongst women).

Bio-d … Bio-degradable.  From vecteezy.com

This suggested people were guessing, and using cues like “bio” and “d-something”, “biodegradable” as an easy gut option, with the most likely everyday source of reference being adverts for “biodegradable” products such as washing up liquid. 31% ‘got the right answer’ but as pure guesswork would have given a 1 in 4 chance of selecting each option, or 25%, I’d say 9% was a more realistic figure for true understanding than 65%.

Maybe now people are genuinely better informed but I would not bank on it. In 2020 Robb Ogilvie published a LinkedIn article ‘The greatest problem in communicating the biodiversity crisis is the word biodiversity’ [a quote from journalist @_richardblack].  After scouring international research Ogilvie concluded that:

Biodiversity conservation is in trouble … hobbled by a ‘wonky’ name, 85+ definitions, an inconsistent media more interested in climate change, a public -30% of whom have never heard of the word, a concept that has too many ‘moving parts’ for a 30 second sound bite and aspirational mainstreaming that has to fight its way into institutional thinking and into the lifestyle choices of individual members of the public’.

Personally I’d have similar misgivings about assuming the public understand terms like ‘nature positive’, which is now popular in the biodiversity community along with ‘nature positive 2030’, and is used to garner support for numerous initiatives, has it’s own international alliance at www.naturepositive.org and will no doubt feature around CBD15  (I withdraw my misgivings if it’s been rigorously tested for public use in qualitative research).

Given that most of the relevant policy world has been using the word biodiversity for decades I’d also question the utility of inventing new but similarly not understood terms.

This stuff is all very interesting to some but is it a problem?

Yes but only if advocacy specialists are asked to do public communications and they try to use Track 2 jargon to engage the public operating on Track 1 rules.  What works in advocacy to politicians with advisers and officials to analyse things, or who may even know their stuff, does not often work in public campaigning.

Use Terms People Already Understand

The simplest and cheapest workaround, indeed something of a golden rule in campaigns, is to use concepts and language the public already understand (and given that all the foregoing is about English language terms, for many, those will anyway have to vary).  In English these might be things like nature, the ‘balance of nature’, leaving space for nature, keeping nature intact, responding to the nature emergency, and so on.

In a similar way, use species that people already know and understand, and human supporters, brands and associations people already know and like, to make the case for a place or practice that helps biodiversity. In the case of Swanscombe, in the UK, creatures water voles, nightingales and otters have (in the UK) a wider appeal than spiders, although in news values terms the Distinguished Jumping Spider has the virtue of being almost totally dependent on that one site.

Water Vole by P G Trimming (Creative Commons) – aka ‘Ratty’- much loved in the UK from Wind in the Willows, a children’s book

Language is a problem but not the problem for getting politicians to start to take the nature emergency as seriously as the climate emergency.

Two Shifting Baselines

Attempts to protect biodiversity suffer from two shifting baselines: political and perceptual.

The political one is the can-kicking-down-the-road, in which political targets are set in the future, and become an agenda for deferred action rather than stimulating immediate real action. This is compounded if new baselines are adopted after we fail to meet targets on old baselines. Hence my suggestions about interventions to stop existing practices.

The perceptual one is more insidious. It’s resetting expectations in line with experience, in this case meaning we no longer expect to see plants or wildlife that disappeared from where we live before our memories started, or we set an expectation of abundance of nature lower than previous generations, or simply get used to not seeing things around any more.  In his book The Moth Snowstorm, journalist Michael McCarthy called the gradual loss of abundance “the great thinning’.

The Moth Snowstorm takes its name from the once-common now largely lost experience of drivers in the UK seeing a ‘snowstorm of moths’ in car headlights at night.

Both of these have been much discussed in the nature and biodiversity community, and the latter was one of the inspirations for the rewilding movement.  Having emerged ‘left field’ from outside the biodiversity policy mainstream, rewilding and its language has side-stepped many of the issues entangling biodiversity communication efforts.  By accident or design it hasn’t tried to take on fundamental social, political and economic questions (the polar opposite in some ways of ‘Sustainable Development’) but has taken ground by direct action, often enabled by the support of wealthy property owners.

In so doing rewilders have come up with explanations or causal stories with an everyday intuitive Track 1 logic such as “rewilding – large-scale restoration of nature to the point where it can take care of itself – will help reverse this collapse in biodiversity”.  The key ideas here are that left to it’s own devices and given its own space ‘nature’ will take on responsibility, and that there is an inbuilt success mechanism which will swing into action once there’s enough extra nature.  Both are intuitively attractive ideas.

But there is another lesson that biodiversity campaigners might draw from the current success of rewilding which is that it may well be easier and more effective to generate public engagement to support the practical actions needed to save and restore biodiversity, than to escalate political pressure within the machinery and constraints of the CBD itself, worthwhile though that is.

I would argue that the same has been true of climate change.  Progress, including through enhanced political will, started to escalate once renewable energy began to look successful and capable.  That had the effect of marginalising the efforts of ‘climate sceptics’ funded by fossil fuel interests.  They haven’t entirely gone away but having lost in the energy market they also have lost their ability to use the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change as a theatre in which to stymie progress by conjuring a ‘scientific debate’.

So more campaigns to support practical action for biodiversity could make more political space for biodiversity, in other words make it easier for politicians to be bold, without having to be brave.

Wolves are now spreading back across Europe, not entirely due to rewilding. Photo (in A Barvarian National Park) by Aconcagua  Creative Commons. ‘Rewilding was originally envisioned as a continental-scale effort in North America with protection of large wilderness cores, suitable habitat corridors for wildlife movement, and recovery of large carnivores’ – https://rewilding.org   According to Wikipedia, first use of the term ‘rewilding’came from Earth First in a 1990 Newsweek article, ‘Trying to take back the planet’.  

Getting Time On Our Side

Complex environmental issues which can only be fully perceived through science –technological and industrial risks as Ulrich Beck called them – are difficult to get a handle on directly, not least as they are usually populated by scientists pushing the boundaries of knowledge and constantly producing new uncertainties.  Climate change and biodiversity are both like this and it makes it hard for decision-makers to tell not just what should be done but how much and how quickly.

Systems modelling is one tool which has helped convert forests of evidence into scenarios and projections that enable politicians to make policy choices.  Climate examples include work by the Stockholm Environmental Institute in the early 1990s which related greenhouse gas heating of the atmosphere to the ability of ecosystems to adapt naturally (ie survive intact) which is where the 1.5.C target ‘limit’ originated, and the subsequent IPCC reports.  Around the same time others related the warming gases in the atmosphere to carbon released from fossil fuels, and the amount of such fuels in the ground, which is where concepts such as the carbon logic, unburnable carbon, and carbon ‘wedges’ (referring to graphs) came from.

These gave an idea of how much global heating could be tolerated, and how much carbon could be burnt and more recent work has tried to show how much time might be left to act on these, offering decision makers a rationale for when they must act.

In 2019 Peter Schellenhuber, director of the Potsdam institute and an adviser to the EU and German government, combined the decision-logic of air traffic controllers on urgency, and insurers on risk, with climate modelling on tipping points, to produce an equation reproduced in a Nature paper with Timothy Lenton and others, aimed at politicians piloting their nations.

The Schellenhuber emergency equation

It reads ‘we define emergency as the product of risk and urgency … Risk is defined by insurers as probability multiplied by damage …urgency is defined in emergency situations as reaction time to an alert divided by the intervention time left to avoid a bad outcome … the situation is an emergency if both risk and urgency are high. If reaction time is longer than the intervention time left, we have lost control’.

The authors were talking about the global climate system although many of the modelled tipping points are living ecosystems such as the Amazon rainforest.  Perhaps such analyses will be presented as part of CBD15 but campaigners could do much more at a local and national level to relate nature understandable without resort of scientific models, to risk and damage and particularly to time and urgency.

For example communications analysts have pointed out that in western societies, ‘time’ is metaphorically treated as a substance having value, for instance we talk about having ‘wasted’ or ‘saved’ time, or ‘running out of time’. Yet protecting ancient nature is often not afforded the same importance as protecting human-made artefacts such as ancient buildings.  It has been shown in the UK, for instance, that once damaged or destroyed, ancient grasslands do not fully recover their species and integrity even after more than 100 years. The oldest yew tree in the UK, at Fortingall in Scotland, may be 5,000 years old.  Fungal networks and seagrass beds in other countries have been found to be even older.

Final Thoughts

“It’s not bringing in the new ideas that’s so hard; it’s getting rid of the old ones”

John Maynard Keynes

In many campaigns there’s the foreground story and the background story.  The real significance, if it has one, usually lies in the background.  In the case of Swanscombe and battles like it, whether campaigners win or lose, the true significance is about how politicians view nature, and how they allow the systems they control such as planning, to treat it.

Steven Norris’s frustrations about ‘democracy’ getting in the way of conventional development and his breezy approval of NSIPs for large developments as “very very welcome” were expressed with the deep confidence that nature and open space are basically blanks on the map, better filled with new infrastructure.

Norris is not particularly unusual, his assumptions are just typical of conventional past thinking.  This ecosystem-or-nature-as-free space assumption underpins the no-limits politics which led to the nature and climate emergencies.  It has to go and be replaced with something more akin to a circular economy operating more organically, like a properly functioning ecosystem.  And, as Rebecca Willis said in Too Hot To Handle, her brilliant little book on finding democratic solutions to climate change (such as Citizen’s Assemblies), “the problem is not too much democracy, it is too little”.

In its own way, the BBC also needs to stop seeing nature as something free that it can turn (and that is the role of BBC Studios) into money-making content, without responsibility.  Five years ago I ended a critical blog ‘Please David Attenborough: For Nature’s Sake, No Planet Earth III’ with:

‘The BBC ‘pays no rent’ for nature: it has a debt to repay, and could yet really help ‘save the planet’.

The BBC has improved since then but to come good on that responsibility it at least has to switch sides over Swanscombe Peninsula.

As part of its PR launch for Green Planet, the BBC ‘took over’ Green Park tube station in London

notes

 

* I did some work for Buglife on Swanscombe in 2021 but these are my own views

 

**Wilson was often compared to Charles Darwin for his insights, and along with ecologist Tom Lovejoy, was credited with inventing the term ‘biodiversity’. Wilson died on 26 December 2021, Lovejoy on Christmas Day 2021.

 

 

 

 

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