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Just a few weeks before the COP27 climate talks in Egypt, no one credible needs convincing of the climate crisis, but the energy crisis is what’s keeping people awake, says Alison Tickell.

A woman dressed in parachute material
Dress for our time by Prof. Helen Storey, UAL. (Dress made from a decommissioned refugee tent. Model: Louise Owen)

David Betteridge

It isn’t difficult to see just how closely these two crises are connected. Energy – its sources, owners, traders, distributors and suppliers, how it is used and what it becomes – has been contested space for the last 250 years, and it’s getting hot. 

The truth is we should not be here. The current energy crisis is one more reminder of how broken our relationship is with a regenerative economy in balance with the natural world and in relation with each other. We are experiencing the violent consequences of a fossil-fuel dependent energy system, the illusion of energy security, and the gulf between those who can and those who cannot afford to heat their homes. 

This crisis is a failure of governance: a failure of energy policy and a failure to invest in an energy system fit and fair for all. But if we could reach for a clean energy future, free of fossil fuels, we could remove the burdens of volatile prices, hostile dependencies, and generate affordable energy for everyone. 

This is the lived reality of the climate crisis. It is the root cause of the crisis we face and connected to almost every other crisis we will face in the future if we do not move away from this harmful system. We cannot afford to lose sight of this.

Everyone needs to play their part

In 2019, the UK Parliament passed a motion declaring an environment and climate emergency and the government’s ‘Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Better’ sets out proposals for decarbonising all sectors by 2050. It makes clear ‘to reach net zero, everyone will need to play their part’. 

The cultural and creative industries need to be at the forefront of efforts to achieve this. Together this collection of world-makers has it all: invention, design, heritage, creativity and community. It exerts immeasurable influence over our lives. It helps that the sector represents 6% of the gross value added of the total UK economy and employs over two million people. That generates a sizable environmental footprint, with many of its impacts embedded in complex supply chains across the globe. 

It is for this reason that a new report Creative Industries and the Climate Emergency: The Path to Net Zero* is so important. For the first time, it presents an overview of the environmental impacts of all the creative industries, from visual arts to video games, with an assessment of industry initiatives, barriers to progress and what is needed to strengthen existing efforts. 

We need radical change to decarbonise our sector

Despite the gravity of the situation, the report makes for optimistic reading. The overriding message is that the climate and nature crisis is well understood, action is a priority and serious thought is being given to doing the right thing. From large institutions and companies through to trade associations, festivals and start-ups, creative organisations are determined to promote positive change. 

This is not just greenwashing and vague industry statements, but a commitment that can be seen in tangible targets and work programmes. By and large, this has been interpreted through Net Zero which has been a helpful tool for accountability using the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. 

The report identifies more than fifteen industry toolkits being used to measure and reduce carbon emissions. The Creative Green Tools first developed by Julie’s Bicycle ten years ago, is used by more than 800 NPOs every year as part of the Arts Council’s reporting, while Bafta’s albert tool has been used by 1,300 TV and film production companies to calculate the impacts of their productions and put practices in place to reduce them.

However, if the sector is to make further progress, it will need the support of government. The hosting of COP26 in Glasgow last year was a key moment in galvanising industry action, but levels of engagement since then have been disappointing. The report makes practical recommendations for government and industry to get behind. 

Cultural sector is uniquely placed to promote change

For instance, the Design Council estimates that some 80% of the environmental impacts of a product are locked in at product design stage, hence all Higher Education design courses should include the mandatory study of sustainability. 

Changes are also needed to HMRC’s tax definition which currently excludes innovation in the arts, thereby preventing creative companies from experimenting with carbon reduction, or sustainable innovation more generally.

The cultural sector is uniquely placed to promote positive change and can have a disproportionate influence on society over and above its direct impacts. People across the creative sector know this and many are already using it. 

Politicians and campaigners have long asked themselves what is needed to motivate people, to mobilise changes in attitudes, behaviour and consumption that are so urgently needed. Throughout the last fifty years, on a wide range of environmental issues – from animal welfare through to ecological degradation – it has been voices from the music, arts, film and entertainment industry that have done more than anyone to raise awareness and ensure these issues have been at the forefront of public consciousness. 

Not choices but imperatives

Yet despite some great initiatives, little academic attention has been given to the field of culture and climate. Much greater understanding is now needed of the relationship between culture and consumer behaviours with regards to the environment, and how artists and creative leaders can best use their position to drive the changes that we urgently need.

The challenges that are keeping us awake now, hot on the heels of the pandemic, will exceed efforts to adapt and reduce energy use - though we must do both with retrofitting, sourcing clean energy, and divesting from pensions and banks that fund the fossil fuel industry. While energy efficiencies can only go so far, they make a meaningful difference and will serve us in the long term as we transition to a future not subject to volatile energy prices driven by fossil fuels. 

In spite of everything, the creative community is rallying, with ingenuity, clarity and attention to what matters. The really big picture, of a world profoundly interconnected, where care and respect are not choices but imperatives, is now the thing. Last week Julie’s Bicycle big national event, We Make Tomorrow 2022, hosted some important, honest and warm conversations about justice, care and courage. As this report shows, the creative community has already started the great transition through this together. 

Alison Tickell is Director of Julie’s Bicycle.
@JuliesBicycle | @CreativePEC 

Download the report: The Creative Industries and the Climate Emergency: The path to Net Zero by BOP Consulting and Julie’s Bicycle, commissioned by the AHRC-funded Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre. 

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Headshot of Alison Tickell