What is the relationship between culture, the arts and climate change?

We believe that the creative community is uniquely placed to transform the conversation around climate change and translate it into action. Artists and the wider cultural community have a unique and critical role: they deal with the art of the possible and influence new ways of being, doing and thinking. Arts and culture not only respond to the world around us; they also influence our individual and collective experiences, and shape the direction we take. Through discussion and through our own behaviour, the creative community can help change society for the better.

Art and culture therefore has a unique platform from which to engage and inspire action on climate change. It can take a complex idea and present it in ways that are engaging and inspiring. Environmental sustainability is also intrinsic to the resilience of an arts organisation and makes economic as well environmental sense. 

What is the Paris Agreement?

In December 2015, 195 countries signed a landmark agreement at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Paris, committing to limit global temperature rise to below 2C against pre-industrial levels. 171 countries have now ratified this agreement, setting individual national emissions reductions goals to help reach this target. Targets and progress will be re-evaluated every 5 years. The Agreement also promises financial support to developing countries to help them adapt to and mitigate climate change.

The deal is the first in history to unite all nations in one agreement to tackle climate change.

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Why 2 Degrees?

The Paris Agreement set out a goal to keep global temperature rise below two degrees against pre-industrial levels. The 2°C target was first used in the 1970s by Economist William Nordhaus who believed 2°C be a tipping point where climate impacts would pass into a region previously unseen. This target has subsequently been used in other agreements, including the 1997 Kyoto Protocol which aimed to reduce global emissions, and has subsequently been adopted frequently as a target for climate policy.

The 2°C target is believed to be a tipping point beyond which the Earth’s systems will face runaway and irreversible change and impacts.

The good news is that it is still possible to meet the Paris temperature goals if emissions begin to fall by 2020.

– Christiana Figueres, Mission2020

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Why is 2020 important?

The 2015 Paris agreement saw 195 countries agree to limit global warming to below 2°C. At the current rate of emissions, to achieve the target of 2°C set in Paris, global emissions need to peak by 2020.

As long as emissions remain above what natural systems can re-absorb, the concentration of carbon and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will continue growing every year (even once emissions have started decreasing). If emissions do not peak by 2020it will be almost impossible to avoid surpassing the 2°C target set in Paris – because the rate of decrease required after this point would need to be so steep as to be almost impossible. 

This will also be a turning point for the sustainable development goals, which we are aiming to reach by 2030.

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What is the UK Climate Change Act?

The UK Climate Change Act 2008 was the first legally binding national climate change act worldwide. It commits the UK to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 80% by 2050 from 1990 levels. Under the Act, the UK government must produce binding emission targets (Carbon Budgets) every five years. An Independent Committee on Climate Change was created under the Act to advise the UK government on these targets, progress towards reaching them, and potential policy options.

Since 2008, five carbon budgets have been implemented, which currently run up to 2032.

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What are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 ‘Global Goals’ developed by the United Nations as part of their 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The goals serve as a successor to the Millennium Development Goals and aim to end povertyprotect the planet and ensure prosperity for all by 2030. The 17 goals include 169 targets and cover the following aspects of sustainable development: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection.

The SDGs are not legally binding and will rely on countries’ taking responsibility to incorporate them into their own sustainable development policies. 

While ‘Climate Action’ has its own goal, it is also acknowledged that “Implementation of the Paris Agreement is essential for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, and provides a roadmap for climate actions that will reduce emissions and build climate resilience,” i.e. effective action on climate change will underpin our success (or lack thereof) in reaching the other goals.  

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What is the UNFCCC?

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international government treaty first adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The framework’s objective is to prevent dangerous interference with the global climate through stabilising the levels of greenhouse gas found in the atmosphere. The UNFCCC has 197 parties    

With no legal enforcement mechanisms of its own, the UNFCCC helps negotiate treaties that drive countries to take action on climate change that will help achieve the framework’s objective of stabilising global emissions. 

The parties of the convention have met annually since 1995. The most recent COP took place in Paris 2015 where 197 parties signed a landmark agreement to tackle climate change collectively and keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees. 

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What is fossil fuel divestment?

Investing means buying stocks, bonds or other investments that can generate you income. Divestment means the opposite – getting rid of those stocks and bonds that you have invested in unethical or morally ambiguous activities.

In the past, divestment campaigns have been launched against industries such as tobacco and gambling, or against Apartheid in South Africa. 

Currently, a global movement is promoting divestment from fossil fuels, asking businesses, institutions and governments to move money out of companies extracting or supporting fossil fuels. Doing so could cause these industries significant damage (reputational and/or financial) and help reduce harmful emissions while supporting the transition to clean renewable energy – especially if investment is not only moved out of fossil fuels, but also into the green economy. 

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What does COP mean?

The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the decision-making body of the UNFCCC to which all 197 Parties to the Convention send representatives. The COP meets every year to review the work of the UNFCCC and review the progress made in achieving the objectives of the convention. 

There have been 23 COPs since the UNFCCC’s creation in 1995. The next COP (COP24) will take place 3-14 December 2018 in Katowice, Poland. 

COPs are sometimes also referred to as ‘international climate change talks’ or similar. 

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How do I measure my carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint measures the greenhouse gas emissions caused by an individual or organisation directly or indirectly and is measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e). Direct emissions that make up your carbon footprint include building energy, water and waste use, company vehicles and business travel if you are an organisation. A carbon footprint can also include indirect impacts such as supplier and customer based emissions and tracking impacts across the entire value chain of a product or service.

To work out your carbon footprint various tools and calculators are available. Julies Bicycle has developed a free carbon calculator developed specifically for arts and cultural sector which allows organisations to calculate the carbon footprint of their activities including building use, productions, tours and festivals. 

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What is carbon offsetting?

Carbon offsetting is a process by which organisations and individuals ‘balance’ out their carbon footprints by funding emission reductions elsewhere, which can ‘offset’ their own activities and emissions.  

For example, to offset the environmental impact of a flight, you could work out the emissions associated with that journey and purchase a carbon offset which guaranteed an equal emissions reduction elsewhere. Offset types include investments in renewable energy or tree planting and offset projects often take place in developing countries where the money invested provides benefits in the local community. 

Offsetting is sometimes seen as controversial, especially if it takes the place of efforts at first reducing emissions through behaviour or operational change. It can also be perceived as an ‘easy’ way to shift the burden of action away from those who are more affluent.

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What’s the difference between zero carbon and carbon neutral?

Zero carbon means that no carbon emissions are being produced from a product/service e.g. zero-carbon electricity could be provided by a 100% renewable energy supplier.

Carbon neutral means that while some emissions are still being generated by a building/process these emissions are being offset somewhere else making the overall net emissions zero.

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Where can I find regular updates from a reputable source on climate change and environmental sustainability?

Updates on climate change and environmental sustainability can be found through a variety of sources which range from national newspapers to international institutions:

For general updates:

For updates on UK policy:

For updates on international policy:

For updates on global energy markets:

For more US-focused news:

For myth busting on climate science and energy in the UK:

To look a bit deeper and see what the JB team have been digging into explore our JB recommends page.