Frequently Asked Climate Questions
We understand that climate terms can be confusing, there’s lots of new terminology to decipher. So we’ve provided these FAQs to help you get to grips with it all. Follow the links for more detailed explanations.
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.
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, nearly every country in the world has now signed up.
The Paris Agreement set out a goal to keep global temperature rise below two degrees against pre-industrial levels. 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. 1.5 degrees is believed to be a much ‘safer’ level of warming, where we will avoid many of the worst impacts of climate change. Although half a degree doesn’t sound like much, every fraction of a degree of warming has significant impacts on our weather systems, frequency of extreme weather events, species extinctions and habitat loss. If we are to have any chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, we have to take urgent and ambitious action on decarbonisation starting now. Read more here.
The 2°C target was first used in the 1970s by Economist William Nordhaus. He believed 2°C to 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 concept of a Green New Deal isn’t a particularly ‘new’ one. The Green New Deal Group published their vision of a Green New Deal for the UK in 2008. Their report was “a call to wake up to the scale of the menace posed to the natural world, the global economy and all our livelihoods by a triple crunch: the present global financial crisis, climate change and the rapid depletion of oil.”
Today, different areas of the world have their own definitions and frameworks to define what a Green New Deal really means. In general terms, Green New Deals aim to tackle climate change at the same time as socio-economic and societal problems and injustices. The concept has received growing interest as one approach for framing a recovery from the global pandemic, with many campaigners and activists calling for a Green Recovery from Covid19. The UK’s response has been to put together a 10 Point Plan for a ‘green industrial revolution’ with investment in ‘green’ infrastructure and energy, along with technologies such as carbon capture and storage, aiming to stimulate the provision of more green jobs. However, UK investment in a ‘green revolution’ or ‘green new deal’ currently falls woefully short in comparison to the level of investment of other developed countries commitments around the world.
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.
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 poverty, protect 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.
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.
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.
The Conference of Parties (COP) are the decision-making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, who meet annually. Every year at COP, progress made in achieving the objectives of the Convention is reviewed and new commitments and international action on climate change is agreed.
The UNFCCC treaty was first adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and the COP have met annually since the first conference held in Berlin, Germany, in 1995.
The last meeting, COP26, was held in November 2021 and hosted in Glasgow, UK. COP26 was widely recognised as the most important climate summit since the landmark COP21 when the 2015 Paris Agreement was made, because it was the first opportunity for countries to upgrade their pledges and to set their emissions targets through to 2030.
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, Julies Bicycle has developed the CG Tools, a set of free carbon calculators 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.
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.
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.
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:
- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Climate Change Newsroom
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
- C40 Cities
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 resources.
Procuring renewable energy isn’t as straightforward as it sometimes seems, unfortunately not all suppliers that claim to be green actually add renewable energy capacity to the grid and many are more reliant on fossil fuel generation than they let on.
A recent report by the Climate Change Committee identified that the procurement of renewable electricity is currently having a limited impact, and in many cases, no impact at all on emissions reductions. This is because procuring energy from a green tariff doesn’t necessarily lead to additional renewable generation being added to the grid; it can be simply buying renewable energy that already exists or that is already supported by other existing financial mechanisms.
To ensure your energy procurement does have an impact, choose an energy supplier which:
- Sources 100% of its electricity directly from renewable energy generators
- Supports large and/or small-scale energy generation
- Is fully transparent on its renewable energy sourcing and can provide credible additionality (i.e. the supplier directly increases renewable energy generation)
- Is not importing renewable fuels or Guarantee of Origin certificates from overseas which may have unforeseen justice implications
- Check whether the supplier matches renewable supply with customer demand, which demonstrates the supplier knows where the power is sourced from at all times
For more info see this handy factsheet on from JB and Good Energy on Buying Green Power.
So how can a tariff be described as renewable or green if in fact it is not? One of the issues lies with the REGOs market: REGO certificates can be sold independently to the power itself.
The Renewable Energy Guarantees Origin (REGO) scheme was set up with the intention of making the electricity market more transparent by telling customers what proportion of their energy comes from renewable sources. But the scheme is failing at achieving this simple goal, because the certificates that prove the energy’s origin aren’t necessarily sold alongside the energy itself. Instead, energy suppliers are able to buy their power from fossil fuel sources and then just buy enough REGOs to match. Given that REGOs are very cheap to buy, this amounts to large scale greenwashing, and suppliers advertising their tariffs as 100% renewable even when they may not actually hold contracts with any renewable generators.
To avoid being greenwashed, ask the energy supplier you’re considering procuring your energy from these questions to help you decide:
- What is the supplier’s electricity fuel mix?
- Do they operate their own renewable generation assets?
- Do they purchase electricity directly from independent generators?
- Is the renewable energy generated in the UK?
- Does the tariff specify any additional environmental and social benefits, e.g. biodiversity enhancements or habitat connectivity measures on the land used for energy generation?
- Does the green tariff specify the renewable energy sources used?
- What reporting do they provide to customers?
Not found your answer?
If you’ve got a question you’d like us to answer, please get in touch. For our series unpacking confusing environmental terms, see our Green Gibberish page.Deciphering Green Gibberish
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