The environment and climate space is a thicket of jargon, full of broad descriptors (‘circular’ economy’, ‘just’ transition’) which nestle next to concepts-held-together-by-hyphens (nature-based solutions, cradle-to-grave and science-based targets), underpinned by peculiar acronyms (UNFCCC? WEEE? HFCs? NDCs?). We’ll be unpacking these regularly for you – if there’s a specific bit of environmental gibberish you want help making sense of, get in touch.
WHAT ON EARTH IS THE IPCC?
IPCC stands for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It is the United Nations body tasked with assessing and summarising ALL OF THE SCIENCE relating to climate change on which governments at all levels base their decisions and climate policies on.
The IPCC doesn’t do its own research – rather, it brings together everything that has been published in scientific journals to create the best possible overview of what we know. IPCC reports might constitute the most ambitious collaboration processes that exist anywhere. (If you’ve ever worked to get a piece of text signed off by a group of people, you might think it is a miracle anything gets published at all). IPCC scientists volunteer their time. Whilst individual governments don’t get to mess with the science, the final text of IPCC Assessment Reports and Special Reports has to be endorsed by IPCC member governments, (all 195 of them!), meaning that, on occasion, the language has ended up being more cautious and likely to understate possible impacts.
The IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C (2018) had 91 authors and review editors from 40 countries, cited more than 6,000 scientific papers, and brought together thousands of experts and government reviewers, including the brilliant Diana Liverman, who sits on Julie’s Bicycle’s board of trustees and was one of the report’s co-authors. The next full IPCC ‘Assessment Report’ is due in June 2022.
WHAT ON EARTH IS WEEE?
In environmental circles, WEEE is not an exclamation of joy, but an abbreviation for ‘Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment‘. We have a specific abbreviation for it because there are European and UK laws (the WEEE Directive) that govern how we dispose of and recycle WEEE, because of the complex range of materials including some hazardous substances it’s made from. E-waste is also a human rights issue. A lot of e-waste is illegally exported from the UK to countries in the global south, where people taking it apart for recycling can be exposed to health-harming chemicals without appropriate protective gear, and it can contaminate local soil or water.
E-waste isn’t just electronics discarded by households – more e-waste comes from the supply chain. So while we should be aware of how we dispose of our electronics, this is also about buying less in the first place, sharing, fixing, buying things second-hand/refurbished, and asking for policy change to make things longer-lasting and more repairable (like the EU’s ‘right to repair’ rules).
A few years ago, JB ran an ‘e-waste teardown’ together with the RSA’ s Great Recovery Project at which we invited people to take apart turntables, phones, Walkmen and more to better understand the stuff that ‘powers’ our music making and listening, and come up with ideas for shifting towards a circular economy.
The WEEE Regulations cover most things that have a plug or need a battery. Don’t throw WEEE in your normal bins – bring it to a collection point (if you’re an individual) or hire a collection service that is WEEE compliant (if you’re a business getting rid of lots).
And if you want to get creative, check out Colchester Arts Centre‘s ‘Cables Amnesty’ day organised by Creative Climate Leader Anthony Roberts, encouraging everyone to relinquish the box of cables we all have somewhere, gathering dust.
WHAT ON EARTH IS CLIMATE JUSTICE?
Climate justice is about where human rights, social justice and the climate and environmental movement intersect. It is the need to recognise climate change as a systemic issue, which is not purely environmental or scientific but also ethical and political. An issue which includes conversations about equity, colonialism and the disparity between distribution of resources and wealth. Climate justice connects up intergenerational issues and stewardship for future generations, it is about renewing the social contract to protect those most vulnerable, both locally and globally.
To do this we need to acknowledge the history and legacies of violence against BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour), and recognise and redress the fundamental inequalities, prejudice and oppression that exist today, meaning marginalised communities across the world are the worst and first affected by climate change and environmental disaster.
On a global scale, it requires accountability and responsibility to be held by those predominantly more affluent nations who have caused the greatest carbon emissions and environmental harm.
This protects the right for poorer countries, communities and individuals to develop and build resilience whilst requiring a fair allocation of resources, which the Principles of Environmental Justice highlights. For an account of addressing privilege in the environmental movement, read Chiara Badiali’s guide to climate racism red flags and associated resources.
For more helpful explainers, check out our Climate FAQs
WHAT ON EARTH IS JUST TRANSITION?
The phrase “Just Transition“ is currently receiving a lot of airtime. And for very good reason. It should be obvious that social inequalities result in health inequalities; that the impacts of climate change generally hit “first and worst” on those most vulnerable, and who do the least to cause it… that the histories and legacies of violence against Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour continue to this day – and remain manifest in the environmental movement.
So what are the strategies put forward to counter this – to remedy and recompense these injustices? Very simply put, Just Transition refers to: decarbonising the economy fairly i.e. a green economy which overcomes injustices experienced by all workers, ensuring no people or places are left behind.
As described by Climate Justice Alliance, the Just Transition is rooted in workers defining a transition away from polluting industries in alliance with fence-line and frontline communities… nowadays it represents: “a host of strategies to transition whole communities to build thriving economies that provide dignified, productive and ecologically sustainable livelihoods; democratic governance and ecological resilience”.
However, like with so much “sustainability” language, it is backed by very different levels of ambition and can be used to obfuscate both root causes and systemic solutions. Helpfully, the Climate Justice Alliance has a brilliant set of principles to guide a truly Just Transition as well as a list of “false solutions” which can easily detract and derail efforts to tackle climate injustice. Read more.
“Transition is inevitable. Justice is not.” – Quinton Sankofa, Movement Generation
WHAT ON EARTH IS DIVESTMENT?
When it comes to your sustainability strategy, divestment can be a bit like everybody’s least favourite chocolate left lonely and forgotten at the bottom of the office sweetie tin. It can be a complex issue, wrapped in controversy and one that is hard to get stuck into. Toffee metaphors aside, divestment, put simply, is the opposite of investment.
It is about taking back or refusing to contribute or receive resources (usually money) to a project or company for environmental or ethical reasons. Some recent examples of divestment campaigns come from environmental campaigners and members of the public putting pressure on banks, universities, and other large institutions to stop investing money in climate-damaging activities such as fossil fuel extraction, and instead, divert their investments to projects and organisations which match their values, sustainability strategies and net-zero ambitions.
Pensions are another good example, much of the UK’s pension funds being tied up with environmentally damaging activities. ‘Make My Money Matter‘ and Share Action are campaigns that seek to move UK pensions into causes with positive social and environmental impacts. For inspiration, check out Culture Unstained and Platform London who have been leading and winning divestment campaigns, and the 2019 event ‘Take The Money and Run’, which discussed how the arts sector might engage with ethical and environmentally responsible funding models.
WHAT ON EARTH IS A DIGITAL CARBON FOOTPRINT?
The global Covid lockdown has highlighted our increasing reliance on technology to allow us to work from home, stay connected with loved ones, and access learning, entertainment and events. But the immaterial nature of the digital world means we aren’t often aware of the environmental impacts of sending our colleagues an email, sharing memes with the group chat, or video calling our mums.
If the internet was a country, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions it would be the sixth largest polluter. But where do these emissions come from?
Digital emissions can be divided into four areas;
- Devices (34%) – energy used to power our phones, tablets, desktops, wearables etc
- Communication Networks (29%)- construction, operation and maintenance of networks for both mobile and fixed networks
- Data Centres (21%) – construction, manufacture and operation of the centres that store all the data on the internet
- Manufacture (16%) – energy for making all the equipment
You can start to address these issues by looking at ways to measure your impacts. For some examples – EarthSpeakr by Studio Olafur Eliasson, is an international digital artwork project which has worked with JB to comprehensively scope out all measurable aspects of the artwork’s footprint. Fast Familiar, a participatory arts organisation, have written a case study explaining how they developed their first carbon-neutral project. You can also start to consider how you dispose of your e-waste, recycle your electrical items, and encourage your staff to switch energy provider to a renewable provider such as Good Energy.
You can find out more about digital carbon footprints and how to mitigate them in our webinar on Creative Digital Impacts.
For more helpful explainers, check out our Climate FAQs
Image: We Make Tomorrow. Credit James Allan