When filmmaker Franny Armstrong launched the 10:10 campaign in September, her goal was to create a critical mass of citizens, companies, schools and universities to pressure the UK government to take more drastic action to slow climate change.
Everyone who signed up committed to reduce their carbon emissions by 10% in 2010 to help meet the overall goal of an 80% reduction in the UK's greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. With upfront cuts, the plan would avoid the emissions build-up expected under longer range goals — buildups that could push the world over a 2 degrees Celsius rise in global temperature, the threshold for "runaway climate change."
In less than two months, the 10:10 campaign has hit its target: It got Parliament talking about serious greenhouse gas reductions.
The UK's House of Commons spent three hours yesterday debating whether to commit the entire government estate — representing 10% of the UK's carbon emissions and 8% of the land — to the 10:10 pledge.
The measure failed, but more than 225 members of Parliament came out in support.
"At the very least, what we proved today is that enough people care about climate change and within six to seven weeks of launching a campaign we can take up three hours on the House of Commons floor discussing climate change," said Dan Vockins of the UK's 10:10 campaign.
"The message that sends is that climate change has arrived and that it's an issue for absolutely everyone."
Armstrong launched the 10% by 2010 goal after her climate change film "The Age of Stupid" went public. The film got people talking, but Armstrong saw a need for more.
The 10% goal came out of research by the Public Interest Research Council. "The European Union put a deal on the table which, if enacted, would give us a 50/50 chance of staying below 2 degrees temperature increase," Vockins said. "What scientists are saying now is that we need to have greater decrease in our emissions outputs over the next few years. Ten percent is achievable, it's doable, and it's in line with what scientists say is now needed."
To date, 10:10 has signed up the entire Tory shadow and Labour cabinets, 36,500 individuals, 100,300 companies, 650 organizations, 370 educational institutions.
The UK government doesn't have the best history on sticking to its emissions reductions targets, however, as Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes explained in his introduction to the party's 10:10 bill in the House of Commons.
"We boast we're a world leader but we've got to show that our deeds match our words," Hughes said. "And this is sadly where we have failed. ... We had a government target in every manifesto since 1970 of 20 percent reduction by 2010, we're barely half-way there. Emissions reductions by recession don't count, we just haven't delivered."
The bill debated on Wednesday would have committed the whole of the government estate, including the military, to 10% emissions reductions across the board.
Labour MP and Department of Energy and Climate Change Minister Joan Ruddock (whose own web site says she supports the 10:10 campaign) argued in opposition to the 10:10 bill, saying it didn't offer enough time for planning.
"If the whole of the public sector were to try to put in place a 10 percent cut with in a single year, we would have projects that would be absolutely useless and chaos in planning," she said.
Gregory Barker, Tory shadow energy and climate change minister, argued that approving the 10:10 target would give Britain more power to bridge global climate negotiations at Copenhagen in December.
"The fact of the matter is the whole government estate has an energy bill of approximately £4 billion a year a huge amount of taxpayers money is wasted on energy bills unnecessarily. That's why governments like the Chinese are not taking this government as seriously as they should do," Barker said.
The final vote on the bill was 226 Ayes to 297 Nays. The UK government made a separate climate gesture yesterday, announcing plans for investing an extra £20 million in energy efficiency in government buildings.
"The history of emissions targets and of climate change has always been deferring it to another generation. It's been about saying we'll have these long term targets in 2050, and the fact of the matter is, most of the politicians voting will be dead by then." Vockins said.
"What we need is targets we can hold politicians to account now. I want to see people talking about next year, what's my climate change target next year."