The goal: To build a better future by cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 in the race to a zero-carbon world – a world that is safer, cleaner and fairer for everyone.
Every organization, company, city and nation and citizens everywhere are invited to collaborate with Countdown and take action on climate. It is a movement open to everyone – and everyone has a vital role to play.
Watch back the entire live event via the link below, or drop below to see a breakdown of the sessions and some key takeaways that we felt needed an even greater highlight. As always we would love to hear your thoughts, please follow the story to keep up to date with the latest on TED Countdown and please check out the latest updates below the article for ways to take action today.
Session 1: Urgency
Hosted by Mark Ruffalo and Don Cheadle
Mark Ruffalo: “Today marks the beginning of counting down to zero on the emissions that are warming up our planet.”
Commentary: Mark and Don are painting a picture of where their inspiration to act urgently has come from, relating to their hometowns, environments and families.
We’re now seeing a montage of all to come including some familiar faces in UK politics and global leaders, all very intriguing, some beautiful graphics too.
Now we’re going to hear from our hosts Lindsey Levin from Future Stewards and Chris Anderson from TED...
Lindsey Levin: “Countdown is a massive collaboration to bring together every citizen of planet earth who wants to do something about the single biggest crisis we face.”
“Two things stand out starkly, we have pushed our home, the earth to its limits."
"Todays crises are all interconnected."
"The climate crisis is also a health crisis because of the dirty air and polluted water that sickens or kills millions of people every year. It’s a crisis of justice, equity and livelihoods with the most vulnerable being the most affected.”
Analysis: Lindsey Levin is the founder of Future Stewards, an organisation that is bringing together all corners of the global community to build a regenerative future. What this means is that Future Stewards are bringing together people with lots of different skills and experiences to share ideas and promote projects that move us all towards a sustainable future. Crucially, what Lindsey is talking about when explaining the interconnected nature of the climate emergency is what we call the ‘Dark Matter’. We refer to ‘Dark Matter’ in the same way as Vinnova’s Director of Strategic Design, Dan Hill, writes in his own book ‘Dark Matter and Trojan Horses’. The crux of it is that in theoretical physics, dark matter accounts for all things we can’t see but is essential for the universe to exist. Think of it as all the relationships between the things we need every day. For example, when you pick up your phone you see a beautiful slab of glass, metal, plastic and silicon, but what you cannot see is the culture, meetings, conversations and collaborations that enables that phone to be ideated, designed, tested, built, shipping and delivered to your hand today. It’s an incredible feat of human achievement right there in the palm of your hand. It’s this kind of interconnectedness that enables us to see that climate change isn’t just an environmental issue, it’s also a social issue and it affects us all, especially those amongst us who are most vulnerable.
- Learn more about Future Stewards
- Read ‘Dark Matter and Trojan Horses’
- Take an object and think about the systems that enable it to be just so
Chris Anderson: “That pollution is coming from 5 major sectors. Energy, transport, industry, food and misuse of nature.”
“That’s what countdown means. Count. Emissions. Down.”
Analysis: Chris Anderson, founder of TED highlights 5 sectors which contribute the most carbon emissions. Crucially, it’s important to recognise that these are all linked to the fundamental systems that we all take for granted in the developed world every day. We’re never far from a light switch, heating, water, public transport, the latest and greatest gadget, a wide variety of food and parks or beaches. All of these sectors are under huge pressure to change, but it’s our actions that will drive these changes in the first place. Think about your choices in each of these sectors. How much energy do you use? Where does it come from? Do you drive or cycle? Is your food nutritious? Could you eat less meat? When did you last take a moment to give something back to nature? These are questions we can all ask and our choices will encourage these sectors to change to meet our demands. Also, for these organisations, the advantage of moving early and addressing carbon emissions provides not all a strategic advantage to the companies business model but also builds in longevity, long-term vision and forms a positive, forward-thinking culture.
Commentary: There’s a fantastic series of these animations to come, the first is describing why climate change is so important and how, in essence, it works. It’s really helping to set the scene.
Johan Rockström: “When I was on the TED stage a decade ago I talked about planetary boundaries that kept our planet in a state that allowed humanity to prosper.”
“Our children can see this, they are walking out of school to demand action”
Analysis: What’s striking about Johan’s quote is that this highlights a shift in how we are all influenced to make decisions and to take action. A new generation of digitally connected young people have been able to stage a walk out of unprecedented scale, which simply wouldn’t have been possible in the past. The net result of these actions are events such as Countdown and the many more initiatives besides. We are now in a world influenced equally by the politicians from the top down and a young generation from the bottom up, this is a unique social pressure that is intensifying and further illustrates the wider shift away from authoritarian power to influence-led, decentralised yet connected power. And this is why businesses need to seriously and significantly take action urgently. Malpractice or lip service to sustainable action isn’t an option when society at large is speculating, investigating and making choices influenced by an ever greater desire to think and act in a sustainable way. What this represents is a huge opportunity for companies to invest in something which is clearly impacting our choices and behaviours. The changes they make today, the earliest and most decisive actions are in fact, over time, the lowest cost ways to scaling positive impact over time. This makes systemic reform, during these intense moments of flux due to the pandemic a perfect window for experimentation, trial and deployment of new ideas, initiatives, plans and above all investment in action.
Johan Rockström: “The fossil fuel era is over”
Commentary: A fantastic animation really goes a long way to illustrate Johans messages, he has highlighted so many aspects of climate change and the urgency needed that we could write a whitepaper just on that talk, make sure you watch his original and his latest talks.
Now we’re shifting gears again to hear from Angel Hsu...
Angel Hsu: “Heatwaves are beginning more severe and common place due to climate change, projected to lead to deaths at the same rate as all infectious diseases combined.”
“Whilst it’s true that cities are contributing to climate change, they’re also key actors in forging low carbon emission pathways.”
“Take Copenhagen for example, it’s commited to become carbon neutral by 2025, and Glasgow plans to become carbon neutral by 2030.”
“Emissions reduction targets, clean energy, sustainable transit projects and also energy efficiency policies that can save people and cities money, energy and emissions.”
Analysis: What Angel explains in cities is a shift of perspective away from developing a city for people, to a collaborative experience developing a city together. The targets, projects and policies should be inclusive and require collaboration to identify the right solutions to support people in their communities, to give ownership back to the people who frequent these neighbourhoods. By doing so, we promote planetary stewardship on a local level, this enables scale and creates global stewardship by design. What makes Copenhagen’s commitment to carbon neutrality so endearing is how action at different scales has contributed towards setting realistic goals and achieving measurable changes. From a country perspective, Denmark has significantly improved EV infrastructure, subsidising a lot of the initial ownership costs and providing lots of additional cost and practicality benefits. On a city level, changes in building code, the introduction of local electricity production and more have created an environment in which neighbourhoods can operate with fewer emissions, and individuals require less energy, switching to renewable sources for heating and transport, forming the loop back with the EV infrastructure we highlighted at the beginning. Angel goes on to explain the disparity between income and the ability to access sustainable infrastructure. This is a vital point, and is why sustainability should absolutely require engagement with different communities directly, so not discriminate or disconnect whole communities from engaging in the shift towards a sustainable future. Equitable sustainability isn't an option, it’s essential to achieving planetary stewardship.
Angel Hsu: “In Africa where many cities lack universal access to electricity, mini-grids are providing approximately 73 million households with electricity.”
Analysis: Mini-grids are essentially decentralised sources of energy from solar panels predominantly but can include wind and other renewable sources of energy. These decentralised grids enable communities to access the benefits of electricity that improves the overall standard of living, health, life opportunities, commerce and more. It enables the cooking for food to improve nutrition, it enables mecanisation to produce goods for trade and even helps power transport for connecting to the wider world of opportunities to educate, trade and build bridges between communities. And in developed nations, decentralised grids are enabling us to have conversations about sharing low-cost, local energy, to curb spikes in demand on the national grid. This also enables us to have a conversation about how we store and share energy, how it should be priced and how new technologies such as EVs, which generally have a low percentage of utilisation, can be used as temporary excess energy storage networks to best manage an effective renewable energy community. All of this is possible because we have driven down the price of renewable energy by pushing up the demand and investing in renewable energy from the top down and the bottom up.
Commentary: We’ve been treated to a create painting of the landscape from the global scientific picture to the cities level and now we’re zooming back out to the global level with United Nations General Secretary António Guterres.
António Guterres: “The upheaval of this pandemic presents an opportunity to charter a new course, one that can address every aspect of the climate crisis”
Analysis: Throughout history moments of crisis have presented humanity of some of the greatest innovations and opportunities to change. Sadly, the cost of these moments is huge, real and for many of us, a very heavy price to pay. This is why we owe it to ourselves to ensure we do not waste this opportunity to reform, to redesign and to create a new world, which values social responsibility and environmental stewardships equally with economic prosperity.
António Guterres: “That is why I am why I am urging governments to take 6 climate positive actions to recover better together. (1) Invest in green jobs. (2) Do not bailout polluting industries, especially coal. (3) And fossil fuel subsidies and put a price on carbon. (4) Take carbon risks into account in all financial and policy decisions,(5) work together in solidarity and (6) most importantly leave no one behind.”
Analysis: This is why we decided to take action and measure the quality of environmental, ethical, financial and social disclosure of companies receiving the Bank of England's Covid Corporate Financing Facility. You can view the CCFF study here. Our objective is not to shame poor performers but to encourage greater transparency and accountability. This is going to help us all to transition polluting industries by utilising not disbanding the unique skills within these organisations and reorienting them to solve their industries systemic challenges in reducing carbon emissions. We believe our work on the CCFF uniquely crossects all 6 of these specific aspects and therefore urge anyone who has the potential to share the study with those who help to form policies for us all to utilize the information we have discovered to best inform debate and to transform that debate into positive climate action.
Commentary: A lot of conversation about the changes needed in governance and finance from António Guterres, a very interesting insight into how the United Nations is attempting to move the needle with the key actors at the top of bureaucratic systems. Now we’ve been introduced to the Climate Action tracker...
Analysis: The Climate Action Tracker shows us all the extent of the problem. Where action is being taken it’s taking place too slowly and where no action is taking place the problems are intensifying. These tools are a stark reminder of the scale of the challenge and why collaboration is the only pathway to achieving our climate ambitions. What makes 100% clean electricity possible is price. Today, clean energy is a comparable investment to fossil fuels with supplementary benefits. It’s now possible to purchase solar panels and produce enough energy, even with the cost of storage, to provide a realistic price benefit versus traditional fossil fuel energy. This is a remarkable achievement. What we believe should not be forgotten is that these renewable energy sources still require the production and manufacture of components which contribute to a global waste problem. We must make sure that the end of life of these renewable sources is taken seriously to ensure the correct recycling and reusing of components takes place and that harmful or spent resources are carefully managed and properly disposed of. We must take ownership of these aspects of clean energy if we are to build in long term sustainable practices.
“These changes will be difficult but not impossible, because they will also bring enormous opportunities like creating millions of jobs.”
Analysis: Whilst the creation of green jobs will take place and we are already seeing a shift in new jobs created in the clean energy sector it’s important to take a moment to consider how automation will impact jobs, especially now that some industries which have suffered the most during the recent pandemic may never be able to return to the level of employment which they once provided. This conversation must take place so that we do not fall into the trap of relying on green industry to support all job growth as this won’t be possible, and if we do not address the shifting economy we will create increasing pockets of social depravity. Investing in a sustainable future must also invest in a fair and equitable society of opportunity for enterprise, training and lower the boundaries to network, share ideas and invest financial resources in a wide range of solutions to all of the systemic challenges our society faces.
Commentary: With so much information flooding in where now taking a moment to enjoy some themed music from Prince Royce, good time to reflect on what we’ve heard so far.
Member of Parliament for Tottenham is up next, David Lammy, we’re very eagerly anticipating this...
Rt Hon David Lammy: “Rising sea levels feel unimportant when your bank balance is falling. Global warming is not your concern when you can’t pay the heating bills. And you're not thinking about pollution when you're stopped by the police.”
“Black people breathe in the most toxic air relative to the general population.”
Analysis: Rt Hon David Lammy provides a detailed and emotive analysis of the climate diversity gap, an issue that we believe is vastly overlooked and is a significant reason behind why progress so far has been so slow. The modern complexity of our society and the economy creates an intrinsic link between as Rt Hon David Lammy explains, the lowest cost housing next to busy roads and lowest paid jobs in polluting industries, at the heart of this issue that there is not one client to design new systems, not one silo that can single handedly effect change. It takes a broad approach to tackle these complex systems, appreciating the contributing factors equally with the direct factors. In government we have independent departments for each requirement in society, but it’s the connections between these departments, the cracks in the system, where climate change is not able to be mandated. The impact of this is seen across the Black Lives Matter movement, which is a wake up call for how we design systems for society. We need to radically rethink housing, education and jobs for the shifting world. This is a requirement of sustainable development, that it is equitable and prosperous for all.
Rt Hon David Lammy: “Climate justice is linked to racial justice, social justice and intergenerational justice too.”
“First we need a recognition, that the climate moment is not only about protecting the planet, it is primarily about caring for the people who live on the planet.
“Global and as well as nationally we need to recognise structural imbalances, and inequalities. A radical green recovery plan should provide jobs to the people who have been disenfranchised for centuries.”
“We cannot tackle the climate crisis without addressing racial inequalities.”
“At Davos this year, 5 young female members of the Fridays for future movement came together to give a press conference at the world economic forum.”
Vanessa Nakate: “You didn't just erase a photo you erased a continent.”
- Climate movement is not only about the planet but primarily about the people who live on the planet
- Recognise structural imbalances and inequalities
- The new economy needs to be ‘green and black’
- We need more black leaders
- Global organisations should consider moving headquarters to the global south and urban areas most affected by the climate emergency
- New scholarships and bursaries in environmental science for people of colour
- See Black Environment Network and The Wretched Of The Earth
- Racial injustice and climate injustice are both rooted in the evil notion that some lives are more important than others
- We need a new international law of ‘ecocide’
- See Sophia point rainforest research center
Commentary: David Lammy doesn’t disappoint, probably the most emotive and impactful speech we’ve heard so far, interwoven with some incredible facts and stories that really illustrate the point. If you only watch one of the talks from Countdown, make it David Lammy’s you won’t be disappointed.
Now we’re moving onto Christiana Figueres, the Costa Rican diplomat probably most recognised here in the UK for her work on the Paris Climate Agreement, this should be an interesting insight.
Christiana Figueres: “Today, at the global level we face a rapidly accelerating climate emergency. Daunting because we have procrastinated way too long. We now have one last chance to truly change our course.”
“If we continue on the current path we condemn our children and their descendants to a world that is increasingly uninhabitable with exponentially increasing levels of diseases, famines and conflict. And irreversible ecosystem failures.”
“This decade is a moment of choice unlike any we have ever lived. All of us alive right now share that responsibility and that opportunity.”
“But then I realised a shared vision and a globally agreed route was indispensable.”
Analysis: What Christiana explores is the power of a positive mindset and the link between positivity and a shared vision. At AG we lead with a vision in our all proposals and projects. For us, longevity and the ‘infinite game’ mentality creates the right environment where a shared vision can unite people to fight for a common cause. Sustainability is perhaps the greatest legacy which any person alive today can fight for, and it’s this idea of creating a legacy that inspires us all at AG to strive for improvement in our work so we can deliver these benefits to the people around us.
Christiana Figueres: “I say, we don’t have the right to give up or let up. Optimism means envisaging our desired future and then actively pulling it closer.”
- Stubborn optimism and a positive attitude
- Creating a shared vision
-What is the future you want?
- And what are you doing to make that future a reality?
Commentary: So we’ve had the science, we’ve heard the impact, we’ve been given an education into the diversity of climate change and now we’ve had it all brought back to our own mentality. We have to commend TED so far, this has been a classic TED style production full of inspiration and intrigue.
And the first session is coming to an end, we hear some positive closing statements from Mark Ruffalo and Don Cheadle, both have been really great hosts to kick off. A short musical interlude from Prince Royce once more and then we’re into the next session.