CAMPAIGN: FoE makes ‘Big Ask' of the Government

In 2005, Friends of the Earth (FoE) launched The Big Ask, inviting the ­Government to take legal responsi­bility for cutting emissions of carbon dioxide by three per cent every year.

Campaign: The Big Ask
Client: Friends of the Earth
PR team: In-house
Timescale: Ongoing from May 2005
Approx £150,000 to date

This was designed to create certainty for the environment and UK business, and providing a legally binding framework preventing successive governments passing the buck on targets.

To gain parliamentary and public support, the pressure group undertook a wide-ranging media and lobbying campaign.

To question the Government’s current commitment – a cut of 60 per cent in CO2 emissions by 2050. To win the scientific and economic arguments for why the country needs a climate change law. To ensure the UK reduces emissions immediately.

Strategy and plan
The Big Ask was launched in May 2005 by FoE supporter and Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke. Yorke kicked off the campaign by highlighting the UK’s current failure to meet targets preventing global temperatures rising to danger levels.

The same day, former Conservative environment minister John Gummer, former Labour environment minister Michael Meacher and then Lib Dem environment spokesman Norman Baker, tabled an early-day motion (EDM) for new legislation requiring annual cuts in CO2 emissions of three per cent.

To help explain the campaign to mainstream audiences, the charity organ­ised a series of gigs across the UK, including The Big Ask Live, which was headlined by Yorke.

Other milestones included the publication of a report in September 2006, ‘The Future Starts Here: the Route to a Low Carbon Economy’, with The Co-operative Bank, based upon findings commissioned from The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. In addition, the charity joined the likes of Oxfam and Greenpeace to support the campaign Stop Climate Chaos.

On the back of local lobbying by FoE members, the campaign gained support from both theConservative Party and Lib Dems.

Measurement and evaluation
The campaign launch gained coverage from the national press and BBC Breakfast, Channel 4 News and Sky News.

The Big Ask Live, was picked up by NME, MTV, BBC Radio, plus the ­music sections of The Independent, The Guardian, The FT, Daily Telegraph and Evening Standard.

The campaign report on cutting CO2 emissions was issued as a BBC exclusive, featuring on News at 10, Newsnight and BBC News 24. Razorlight frontman Johnny Borrell’s ‘eco-tour’ environmental campaign appeared on ITN, Radio 1 and in the Daily Mirror.

On 13 March, environment secretary David Miliband unveiled a draft Climate Change Bill for an independent panel to set up an accountable government ‘carbon budget’ every five years. In the end, 412 MPs signed the EDM.

Having won the argument for a law, the charity is now campaigning to strengthen the proposed legislation and ensure UK targets include international aviation and shipping.

In a televised debate on 13 March, BBC political correspondent Nick Robinson acknowledged FoE’s success in persuading the government to embrace new legislation saying: ‘People often ask: “Does anything change politics?” Well, it has here.’


The campaign has a simple message – write to your MP and ask them to do more about climate change. Combining a direct chall­enge to government with support from the entertainment industry is a powerful combin­ation – as the success of Live 8 demonstrated.

As more and more campaigns spring up around climate change, it is important there is consistency. People get confused about what they should be doing otherwise, so it is good to see Friends of the Earth joining with Oxfam, WWF and Greenpeace under the Stop Climate Chaos banner to move things forward on The Big Ask.

To ensure effective follow-through by government on climate change, inspiring a mainstream audience is crucial because a crit­i­cal mass of people has to be ­actively engaged on an ongoing basis.

It wasn’t long ago that the words ‘environmental campaign’ con­jured up images of tree-huggers in tie-dye trying to per­suade you to forgo all creature comforts.

It’s a tired cliché and, as anyone who knows about climate change will tell you, the situation has been changing. The Big Ask represents a new breed of environmental initiative – meaningful, accessible and well presented.

Sophy Bristow (l) is comms manager at climate change campaign body The Climate Group 

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