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Last week I went to One Big Day, an event organised by Arup, an innovative, international firm of engineers and consultants providing design, project management and consultancy services, in partnership with Climate Group.

Bringing together leaders from government, business and civil society, the question that framed the event was how we can achieve a low-carbon UK by 2050. I went on behalf of Michaela Crimmin, RSA Head of Arts and London Leader.

The day started by looking at our current situation. Jim Walker from The Climate Group explained statistically the damage we are causing and the targets we are aiming to meet; as well as addressing public opinion and the barriers to the UK becoming 80% carbon neutral by 2050. One of Arup’s current building projects is the Dongtan eco-city outside Shanghai, China. In a fictional film, with that comically old fashioned sci-fi feel that portrayals of the future often have, Arup presented their vision of everyday life in a carbon neutral community, 40 years from now. This would be a compact and highly efficient community dealing with waste, food, energy, water etc collectively, with most amenities within walking distance and the inhabitants working from home to reduce travel emissions.

Later that morning we were asked to discuss how to unlock the major opportunities and barriers to a low carbon economy. One thing raised on our table was how to mobilise local communities. After ten minutes enthusiastic talk about communities living more sustainably together, one person asked the sobering question, ‘Who is my community, as far as I know I don’t live in a community?’ highlighting another major barrier to tackle. The feedback from all the groups included barriers such as lack of consistent information and understanding, time scales and too many bad choices. Many of the opportunities centred on developing an economy around renewable energy and energy efficiency, creating new services and employment and providing the education to make this possible.

In the afternoon speakers, including Jeremy Webb, the editor of new Scientist and Mark Watts from the Greater London Authority, looked at climate change from a business, NGO, media and government perspective. Newscaster John Snow chaired the open discussion at the end with an impressive amount of energy. From an Arts & Ecology perspective one important point from the floor was where is culture in all of this? When it comes to innovative thinking, which tackling climate change needs, it seems to make a lot of sense to get the cultural industries more directly involved. Arup is itself addressing climate change in creative ways and in the wrap up John Miles, from Arup, stated that the next phase of these events would also include a cultural agenda.

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