What encouraged you to work for WWF and get involved in the fight against climate change?
We are the first generation to know just how much harm we are doing to our planet and we could be the last that can do anything about it. Globally we’re using the planet’s resources faster than nature can restore itself.
We’re destroying forests, choking the oceans with plastic, driving the sixth mass extinction, and causing devastating changes to the climate. We have the opportunity to prevent climate breakdown; what else could I do but get involved in trying to stop it.
Can travel be a force for environmental good?
Of course, travel helps connect people and cultures and builds understanding and cooperation. WWF is an international organisation, so we have staff who work with experts and communities around the world to do practical work to protect and restore nature and wildlife – you can’t do all of that by a conference call!
But travel can also contribute to the problems we’re tackling and it’s a tool we must use sparingly. Air travel is one of the most energy and carbon intensive means of transport, and if it carries on growing at its current rate, aviation could account for a quarter of the entire world’s remaining carbon budget for a 1.5ºC world by 2050 [1.5ºC is now considered the safe upper-limit for global warming, see the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) special report].
How do you balance a sustainable ethos with air travel for work?
At WWF-UK, we have a sustainable travel policy to help us minimise our impact. This policy requires us to challenge the need to travel and make sure that we only do so where it is genuinely necessary via the most sustainable means. In the UK and Europe, that means travelling by public transport, rather than flying.
All of WWF-UK’s air travel has to come out of an annual carbon budget for the whole organisation. Those budgets reduce each year in line with the reductions we need to be making as a society if we stand a chance of keeping global temperature rises to 1.5ºC.
How can frequent travellers minimise their harm to the environment?
There is no way of getting around it – we need to fly less. We all need to develop a healthy dose of flygskam– or flight shame! The flygskam campaign in Sweden has been so successful that airlines and airports have felt the pinch as Swedes have voluntarily cut down on their flying. And it’s spreading – more and more people are pledging not to fly in a year, or are limiting themselves and cutting down on what they’ve been used to. At the end of the day, only around 15 per cent of people take 70 per cent of the flights in the UK, so it’s those who fly most frequently now – and their employers – who need to challenge themselves to cut back.
That means assessing whether the travel is really needed, or whether a meeting can be done by other means – phone or videoconference, for instance. For short-haul flights, it can also mean replacing a flight with a train journey. We are fairly well connected in the UK and, once you get into Europe, rail services are so fast and comfortable that it’s a positive pleasure to travel by train.
Of course, sometimes we can’t avoid it, or we really want or need to go somewhere that we can’t reach by train, bike or bus. In that instance, offset the carbon – but do it properly. Go to goldstandard.org – they guarantee that projects you contribute to are real and verifiable, and make measurable contributions to sustainable development.
Has technology made it easier to campaign about climate change?
We are at a unique moment, being probably the last generation with the time and ability to put right the damage we’re inflicting on the natural world, and averting the climate emergency. To act on this, technology has certainly made it easier. WWF’s social media and digital strategy enables us to engage people globally like never before and to galvanise support for our work and our campaigns.
Our recent collaboration with Netflix and Silverback Films on the documentary Our Planet is another example of using technology to capture unprecedented and beautiful footage of Earth’s wildlife, to tell stories to people around the world on a scale, and in a way that has not existed until very recently.
What has been the most rewarding experience when travelling for work?
I was lucky enough to travel to the Arctic Circle a couple of years ago, to see the impact of the climate crisis first hand, in one of the most sensitive and important environments on our planet. I went to Ilulissat in Greenland where I witnessed not just the awesome force of nature that is the Jakobshavn glacier, and the communities and wildlife that live around it, but also the impacts of climate change on the Arctic and the associated risks – including opening up shipping routes and fossil fuel exploration in the region.
How could the travel industry become more ‘eco-friendly’?
Like every business, those in the travel industry need to decide whether they’re working towards a 1.5ºC world, or whether they’re adapting to climate breakdown. Increasingly customers are demanding the former, and will punish the latter. So businesses should sign up to science-based targets to reduce their emissions – throughout their value chain – in line with keeping warming to 1.5ºC.
The Science-Based Targets Initiative exists to support businesses to do this, and certifies their targets. Some of the biggest businesses in the UK are amongst the first to sign-up to 1.5ºC targets – if BT Group and Tesco can do it, then so can anyone.
Hotels, tour operators and suppliers can also make sure that their products and services are sustainable and reduce travellers’ impact by helping their customers to tread lightly when they travel, and avoid exploiting or harming local people, vulnerable wildlife and sensitive nature in the places we visit.
What role does conservation play in fighting climate change?
WWF are working to tackle the biggest issues affecting our planet – we want to create a world in which wildlife and people can thrive. Organisations like WWF, which have a grounding in science, are essential in enabling governments, business and individuals to act to protect our planet for future generations.
Protecting and restoring nature is a critical part to tackling climate change. Habitats like forests, wetlands, mangrove swamps, peatlands and oceans absorb carbon and help regulate the environment we rely on to survive – if we protect them, then they protect us, and every other species on our amazing planet.